“Honoring” President Trump – The Worst Environmental President in U.S. History

Cartoon: Patrick Chappatte, International New York Times

When it comes to being bad, we know that President Trump excels. He has told more lies, he is one of only three presidents to be impeached, he has flouted the rule of law, and he has retaliated against many in government who dared to defy him, and used his power as President to harm his political enemies. All of these things are bad – really maleficent.

But when it comes to the environment, President Trump is worse than bad – he is downright dangerous. His policies and regulatory rollbacks have cost thousands of Americans their lives. His policies are most damaging to children – and he has cut back on research that would tell us how much. And he has demanded actions that have desecrated the graves of the first Americans and is selling off our lands to his oil and gas cronies at a historic pace. His all-out assault on the environmental protections and public lands and waters of this country are unparalleled in our history. In short, he is the WORST President ever on the environment and conservation.

But you don’t have to take our word for it. Nine of the largest environmental groups in the U.S., who collectively represent millions of Americans, issued a statement the night before the President’s State of the Union address saying,

“Donald Trump’s administration has unleashed an unprecedented assault on our environment and the health of our communities. His policies threaten our climate, air, water, public lands, wildlife, and oceans; no amount of his greenwashing can change the simple fact: Donald Trump has been the worst president for our environment in history. Unfortunately, our children will pay the costs of this president’s recklessness.”

Let’s break down his greatest “hits.”

Despite vowing to ensure that the United States has the “cleanest air” and the “cleanest water” the past 3 years of the Trump administration has seen the rollback of 95 environmental rules. In fact, within the first two years of the Trump EPA, the agency’s rate of deregulation was so high that an internal watchdog said that it “exceeded” its self-established goals. Here’s a mere highlight real of the critical environmental protections that the Trump administration has worked to dismantle despite public opposition:

To get a better sense of the totality of these rollbacks we recommend the tracker put together by the New York Times and the Brookings Institution. Even by Republican standards, the current state of environmental deregulation is alarming.

While other Republican Presidents have been bad for the environment–President Ronald Reagan had often been called the worst but even his dismal record pales in comparison to that of Trump. The Reagan Administration did many of the same things as this one – they were “lax in enforcing antipollution laws and promiscuous in making public lands and resources available to profit-making corporations. Environmental and conservation agencies were starved for money, the agencies were politicized and their staffs were demoralized,” according to critics interviewed by The New York Times in 1989. But at the end of the Reagan Administration, environmentalists acknowledge to The Times that “their worst fears were not realized” due to Congress (controlled by Democrats), the courts, and public pressure to protect the environment. Not so today.

And every other modern Republican President has, when considering his legacy, has taken actions that conserved special places for future generations or presided over improvements to our environmental laws. Richard Nixon signed the major environmental laws that President Trump is now obliterating – the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act — and created the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. President George H.W. Bush pushed for the passage of the Clean Air Act Amendments – a significant upgrade on the original law – and pledged no net loss of wetlands, which did not endear him to developers. And he presided over the first climate change treaty being ratified by the Senate with bipartisan support in 1992. And his son, George W. Bush’s record while not as stellar was not awful as compared to Trump – he created 8 National Monuments – including 3 in the Pacific Ocean – and saw to it that 11,000 abandoned industrial brownfields were put back to productive use.

Indeed, by this time in their Presidency, in the run-up to a re-election campaign or when contemplating leaving office and seeking a lasting legacy, Republican Presidents usually find their “greener” side. They create monuments that will last for eternity and for which they can always claim “solo” credit since they are done by executive order, or they sign bi-partisan legislation – like the Climate Change Treaty. They try to find some way to demonstrate that they care about the environment because they know American voters across the spectrum believe that clean air and water and national parks are one of the major things that truly makes America great.

But all we have from Trump is empty words that can barely disguise his disdain for the natural world. It is a dystopian version of America the Beautiful – sing the song, all the while despoiling our riches. It is like, “burning the Picassos to heat the house for an hour.” On this President’s Day, we should give him his due and recognize that when it comes to the environment, Trump is the worst ever – and he should be remembered for that.

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