President Donald Trump delivered an address on Monday touting his administration’s environmental efforts while criticising Democratic measures.
He praised his policies for improving air and water quality and creating new energy jobs, and again defended leaving the “unfair” 2015 Paris climate accord.
“Punishing Americans is never the right way to produce a better environment or a better economy,” Mr Trump said.
But environmentalists have decried his many rollbacks of climate protections.
Mr Trump’s Environmental Leadership remarks focused primarily on his economic policies. He did not mention climate change.
“From day one my administration has made it a top priority to make sure America has the cleanest air and cleanest water on the planet,” Mr Trump said.
He was joined by his supporters, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who are former oil and coal industry lobbyists.
“A strong economy is vital to maintaining a healthy environment,” Mr Trump said, adding that millions of new energy jobs have been created under his presidency.
The Republican president also attacked Democratic policies, both from the Obama administration and the current Congress.
Mr Trump called the Democrat’s Green New Deal plan – a large scale re-imagining of how economies should work to deal with the root causes of climate change – impractical and unaffordable.
He also accused the Obama administration of “waging a war” on energy.
In defending his withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement – a decision that saw some pushback even from within the White House – Mr Trump said that every other nation “lags behind America” with emissions.
He called the Paris deal “unfair, ineffective and very, very expensive”.
“The US does not have to sacrifice our own jobs to lead the world,” Mr Trump added.
The president has rolled back dozens of protections on federal lands and emissions while continuing to ignore warnings from his own agencies on the effects of climate change.
Mr Trump has also repeatedly questioned environmental science and claimed earlier this year that climate change “goes both ways”, while blaming other nations for worsening air and water quality.
There’s a bit of political wisdom that asserts that when the economy is bad, all American voters care about is the economy. When it’s good they have time for other issues, like the environment.
The US economy, at least for the moment, is expanding, and surveys indicate that environmental issues – in particular, climate change – are of increasing public concern. What’s more, according to a recent poll, Americans give Donald Trump abysmal marks on the topic, with only 29% of the public approving of the job he’s doing.
The president has said in the past that he thinks climate change is a hoax, and his administration has aggressively pared back governmental efforts to address the issue through regulation, research and education. American voters, facing growing evidence of the adverse impact of climate change, are taking note – which could be trouble for a president facing a tough re-election fight next year.
All this explains why Mr Trump is now touting his environmental record.
While there isn’t much chance he’ll win over new converts, any success he has at lessening the potency of the issue as a weapon against him is a step toward another four years in office.
Environmentalists have accused Mr Trump of prioritising profits and fossil fuel industries over combating climate change.
Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, a 2020 Democratic candidate focusing on environmental issues, tweeted criticisms of Mr Trump’s speech, saying that the “climate crisis is a political problem for Donald Trump and he knows it”.
Fellow 2020 rival, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, also pushed back against the president’s remarks.
Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement: “It’s bizarre that Trump thinks he can slap a happy face sticker over the vast wounds he’s inflicting on America’s environment.
“No other president, Republic or Democrat, ever felt it necessary to approach environmental protection in such a partisan and petty way.”
A a 2018 Environmental Performance Index report by Yale University, Columbia University and the World Economic Forum ranked the US at 27 out of 180 countries in environmental performance.
For air quality, it listed the US as 10th in the world.
The US ties for first place with a number of other countries when it comes to drinking water, but is 31st in sanitation.