Donald Trump has proclaimed America to be an environmental leader, despite moving to gut dozens of rules meant to safeguard clean air and water and rescinding every major US effort to stem the climate crisis.
In his speech, delivered at the White House, Trump said protecting America’s “incredible natural splendor” is a “shared obligation that brings us together today”.
He claimed the environment has been a top priority since the start of his administration. “We want the cleanest air. We want crystal clean water, and that’s what we’re doing and that’s what we’re working on so hard,” he said.
The speech could be intended to temper Americans’ concerns that his administration is ignoring the climate crisis. Polls show a majority of voters disapprove of his handling of the issue and Democrats competing for the presidential nomination have been rolling out proposals to cut pollution.
The 2020 presidential candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders will this week propose the declaration of a climate emergency.
The US is the only nation in the world that will not back a global agreement to limit the heat-trapping pollution experts say is already linked with weekly disasters.
Trump routinely claims the US has the cleanest air and water in the world, which is not true. One analysis from Yale and Columbia universities ranks the US 27th for overall environmental performance.
America has seen significant reductions in pollution since the 1970s but critics say the president is undercutting laws that have provided that progress.
A study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that air pollution kills 200,000 Americans each year, more than those who die from auto accidents or gun violence.
Joe Goffman, a senior lawyer at the Environmental Protection Agency under Barack Obama, said Trump has been stalling environmental efforts since he signed an early executive order, in March 2017, to unwind Obama policies.
“From his very first weeks in office the president has made it a priority to go backwards in terms of air quality and climate protections,” Goffman said.
In the last month, Trump’s agencies have rescinded an Obama administration rule to limit the heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other pollutants from coal plants and granted a pollution waiver to allow year-round sales of gasoline with more ethanol.