‘We can both reduce emissions and not strangle the economy…’
(Michael Wilner, McClatchy Washington Bureau) The Trump campaign is seeking a list of “climate victories” that can be attributed to Donald Trump’s presidency, two anonymous sources familiar with the campaign told McClatchy this week.
If true, it would reflect a shift in strategy ahead of the 2020 election as Democrats double down on using the environment as a wedge issue with six potential presidential opponents having co-sponsored the Senate’s failed Green New Deal bill.
But regardless of the politics behind the widely panned resolution, first introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio–Cortez, many conservative allies remain diffident if not actively critical of the latest wave of green activism.
The Trump administration is currently weighing whether to establish a presidential committee on climate security that would include longtime skeptics of the dangers of climate change. The purpose of that panel would be to scrutinize the most recent national climate assessment, a comprehensive document vetted by 13 government agencies detailing economic and national security perils in store for a warming Earth.
The two-pronged campaign strategy—both to defend the administration’s approach to climate change while simultaneously casting doubt on the extent of the threat—is intended to address a substantial political divide within the Republican Party over the seriousness of the threat, the role of human activities and what can be done about it.
White House officials have liaised with the Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of the campaign seeking a concrete list of accomplishments, according to one source. And campaign officials are encouraging the president to begin racking up visible environmental victories specific to battleground states, such as Michigan and Florida, critical to Trump’s reelection bid and where climate change has increased in importance to voters.
“I can confirm that the campaign is unduly interested in collecting a string of wins on this,” said a second source familiar with the campaign, citing the president’s commitment in Michigan last week to funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and, days later, to infrastructure repairs to Lake Okeechobee’s Herbert Hoover Dike in Florida.
“In Trump world, the hope is to find enough basic environmental and climate wins in places where he needs to perform well,” the source said. “There’s been a lot of discussion around how easy it would be to be stack up victories on an issue that really matters in states that really matter.”
Topping a list of recent accomplishments from the EPA, led by Administrator Andrew Wheeler—a longtime advocate and supporter of fossil fuel-based energy—is their claim that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions decreased in Trump’s first year in office. The Trump campaign will argue that private sector innovation—not regulations—have proven under the Trump presidency to be a more effective method of cutting emissions from major industrial sources.
“We can both reduce emissions and not strangle the economy—that’s the argument,” said one GOP aide involved in the campaign, who cited the EPA’s proposed replacement of former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan with the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, which transfers power from the federal government to the states to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
A spokesman for the Trump campaign told McClatchy they were unaware of White House conversations on messaging with EPA officials, but confirmed that the campaign is gathering research for an aggressive defense of the president’s climate change record.
“While we are not aware about this specific request, President Trump has an excellent record of achieving actual success on the environment, rather than just burying Americans in regulations and red tape,” the campaign spokesman said. “We plan to tout the president’s record on all issues throughout the campaign.”
Contrasting innovation with regulation is an increasingly popular strategy among Republicans on Capitol Hill, who in March grew more vocal in their calls for action to mitigate climate change through legislation.
Three GOP senators—Mitt Romney of Utah, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is a confidant of the president—advocated for a viable Republican alternative to the Democrats’ Green New Deal on climate last month, proposing a federal program that would incentivize businesses to spawn new emission-cutting technologies and to reduce pollutants already in the atmosphere.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged the role of humans in altering the climate for the first time last week. And Matt Gaetz, a conservative congressman from the Florida panhandle and an ally of the White House, will propose on Wednesday a “Green Real Deal” that characterizes climate change as a threat to national security.
At the same time, the president continues to question the science undergirding the view on the left.
“I think something’s happening,” Trump told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in October. “Something’s changing and it’ll change back again. I don’t think it’s a hoax, I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s man-made.”
A senior administration official told McClatchy that the creation of a presidential committee on climate security—first raised in November after Trump felt blindsided by the national climate assessment—is still under active review. No final decision has been made, but the panel could be formed in short order if the president approves.
“The United States government takes seriously the issue of climate change, and it is important that policies and decision-making be based on transparent and defensible science,” the senior administration official said.
Another U.S. official acknowledged divisions within the administration over whether to establish the panel, but said that internal deliberative processes should be allowed to proceed outside of the public eye. If eventually formed, the group’s structure, meetings and product would be available to the public, governed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
(c)2019 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.