The facts on Trump’s terrible environmental record

Smoke pouring out of two industrial smokestacks against a gray sky at Cherokee Generating Station

Cherokee Generating Station, Colorado

Mason Cummings, TWS

Admin has undercut progress on climate, pollution, oceans

President Trump appears to be launching a PR offensive to brag about “America’s environmental leadership” under his watch. But the actual record shows an unparalleled trail of destruction, some of it already impossible to repair, that winds its way through our shared lands, air, water and communities. 

“Trump is the worst President for the environment in our history. No amount of spin from this administration can hide its legacy of abuse, neglect and corruption that threatens our health and the health of our environment,” said Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams in a statement. “Trump’s illegal land grab, which slashed Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, was the biggest single rollback of land protections in American history. And that’s just one low point in an abysmal record of attacking the most cherished places in the country, from the Arctic Refuge in Alaska to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters.”

Let’s take a quick look at some of the key facts on the Trump environmental record:

1. Trump is selling out public lands for drilling and mining at a shocking rate

The Trump administration’s rush to open public lands to drilling and mining has already redrawn the American landscape. Among the most infamous examples are the decision to sharply cut protections for culturally and naturally important landscapes in Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments and efforts to encourage oil and gas development in the peerless Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Through December 2018, Trump had offered over 98 million acres of land and water for oil development (an area larger than the state of Montana) and stripped protections for 153.3 million acres of land and water (an area larger than California and Washington combined).

2. Trump’s policies are making the climate change crisis worse

Trump and his allies’ antipathy for climate science and any efforts to address climate change are well known, running the gamut from censoring materials that mention the negative effects, to ignoring his own government’s cautionary findings, to killing rules that were designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even as the research mounts showing we’re headed for disaster and both American and global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, Trump has bizarrely claimed the U.S. has “among the cleanest climates there are,” perhaps an attempt to conflate traditional air pollution with emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere. See below for more on that.

3. Trump is dragging our “clean air and water” in the wrong direction

One of Trump’s favorite ways of circumventing any discussion about the threat of climate change is to claim that America’s air and water is “at a record clean (sic)” already—presumably referring to smog and the like—and take credit for that supposed triumph. But he’s wrong on all counts. America’s air quality actually ranks 10th in the world according to a popular statistical index, and by some measures it's trending in the wrong direction. That's after decades of progress brought about by regulations under the Clean Air Act and other key environmental laws—laws that Trump and his allies have worked hard to dismantle. Additionally, climate change itself is expected to worsen levels of ozone and other pollutants. The American Lung Association’s 2019 “State of the Air” report notes that climate change is also making it harder to protect people from particle pollution. Scroll up if you need a reminder of how Trump feels about tackling climate change.

The U.S. does have clean water compared to many other countries, but experts say any notion that we lead on that front is “laughable.” In fact, one of Trump’s signature anti-conservation efforts has been reducing the scope of the Clean Water Act to remove protections from more than half of U.S. wetlands. His administration is also responsible for many mining and energy proposals that would imperil crucial watersheds, including a push for sulfide-ore copper mining next to the Boundary Waters-Canoe Area Wilderness

4. The Trump administration has obstructed efforts that would curb ocean trash and help marine life

Trump administration officials recently started talking up ocean trash cleanup as a top priority, citing harm to marine life and pointing to China and other countries as those driving the problem. But as recently as May 2019, the U.S. declined to join an international pact to reduce plastic waste, and in 2018 the American delegation at the Group of 7 summit passed up the chance to sign an agreement to reduce marine plastic pollution. Furthermore, most of the ocean trash from Asian countries actually originates from the U.S. and Europe

To be sure, cleaning up ocean trash is a laudable and necessary project. But if Trump and co. are truly concerned about the health of our oceans, they should heed the threats posed to marine life by climate change and quit pushing policies that encourage offshore drilling and allow deafening seismic tests that will harm thousands of dolphins and whales. 

5. Trump’s environmental policies are doing the Everglades no favors

“Everglades restoration” refers primarily to the huge, decades-spanning project of returning the Florida Everglades to its historical life-sustaining flow—a gradual progression of water through the Kissimmee River Valley south to Florida Bay that was disrupted by development from the 19th century on. 

It’s true that the Trump administration recently did an about-face and has now pledged strong funding for Everglades restoration. But climate change consequences like sea-level rise and warped weather patterns threaten to seriously undercut that work—and Trump has done practically everything possible to stymie climate action. Experts have already called for Everglades restoration plans to be retooled and expanded to account for climate change. As long as Trump and his drill-first cohort continue to push policies that broadly threaten climate, air and water, paying for Everglades restoration work alone simply won’t cut it.