Trump on the Environment: A Study in Falsehood

by Daniel Farber

March 29, 2019

Originally published on Legal Planet.

The Washington Post has a list of false statements by Trump, which turns out to be searchable by topic. They've found, "In the first eight months of his presidency, President Trump made 1,137 false or misleading claims, an average of five a day." As of March 17, he was up to 9,179 false statements. There were 200 false statements about the environment – that's about one every four days, which compares favorably to the number of misrepresentations on some other topics. They're quite repetitive, but I've picked out some of the most frequent ones. By the way, if you're interested, the Post also explains why each of these statements is wrong. I shudder to think what people who follow him on Twitter are picking up in the way of misconceptions.

Air and Water

  • "Some of the best farmland in the world, by the way, can't be used because they don't have water. But they actually have a lot of water." [About endangered species and water quality regulations that prevent draining the Sacramento and American Rivers dry.]
  • "We, right now, have the cleanest air and the cleanest water, which is what I want. I want absolutely immaculate air and crystal, clean water."
  • "America: the Cleanest Air in the World – BY FAR!"
  • About the WOTUS rule: "It's got the most beautiful title — the disastrous Waters of the United States rule…. It means you couldn't farm your land. It means you couldn't build houses on your land. It means you couldn't do anything with your land. If you had a little puddle on your land — you heard this — it was considered, for purposes of that rule, a lake. And you came under restrictions and regulations that made it impossible to go anywhere near it. Honestly, it was insane." [He repeated this reference to "puddles" on numerous occasions.]

Fossil Fuels

  • "Clean coal. I say beautiful, clean coal. And we have more of it than anybody."
  • "We've ended the war on beautiful, clean coal and in just the last year, our coal exports have skyrocketed."
  • "I just left Montana, and I looked at those trains and they're loaded up with clean coal — beautiful clean coal. And those trains were empty two years ago. They were empty; they were dying."
  • "Hillary was going to stop fracking. She was going to stop coal totally."

Climate Science

  • "My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump. And I didn't talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture."
  • "Something's changing and it'll change back again. I don't think [climate change is] a hoax, I think there's probably a difference. But I don't know that it's manmade.… We have scientists that disagree with that."
  • "There is a cooling, and there's a heating — I mean, look, it used to not be 'climate change,' it used to be 'global warming,' right? That wasn't working too well, 'cause it was getting too cold all over the place."

The Paris Agreement

  • "I withdrew the United States from the job killing, very unfair and very, very expensive Paris climate accord, another one that — a killer."
  • "Believe me, we have massive legal liability if we stay in."
  • "They all say it's nonbinding. Like hell it's nonbinding."
  • "I was the one that kept us out of the Paris Accord. If I was in the Paris Accord, we would be paying trillions of dollars, trillions of dollars for nothing, and I wouldn't do that."

Disasters

  • "3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much."
  • "If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list." [about Hurricane Maria]
  • "California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren't allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire from spreading!"

Trump's most recent misrepresentation about the environment was on March 16, in which he blamed the "yellow jacket" movement in France on the Paris Agreement and said that the U.S. tops all environmental lists. As the Post points out, neither of these assertions is true. The "yellow jacket" movement was sparked by a fuel tax and has expanded to include Macron's policies more generally (apparently with considerable help from Russian manipulation of social media); in  the 2018 Environmental Performance Index by Yale and Columbia universities, Switzerland tops the list, and the U.S. is #27.

It's not clear how many people credit Trump's statements. But whether they do, his frequent misrepresentations reduce the credibility of government statements more broadly. They degrade public discourse with the implied message that truth doesn't matter much one way or the other.

Someone might uncharitably call these statements lies, but that may well be inaccurate because it implies deliberate falsehood. The President of the United States may actually believe these statements, which is even scarier in a way.

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Also from Daniel Farber

Daniel A. Farber is the Sho Sato Professor of Law and Director of the California Center for Law, Energy and the Environment at the University of California, Berkeley.

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