Trump’s Misleading Claims About His Environmental Record

President Trump made the case Monday that he has protected the nation’s air and water in a speech filled with cherry-picked statistics and misleading claims. And he failed to mention that his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord was undercutting efforts to address a fundamental threat to the planet.

Mr. Trump listed what he cast as accomplishments in addressing air pollution, carbon emissions, hazardous sites and lead exposure — taking credit for trends that preceded his administration or actions mandated by courts. Left unaddressed were his effort to weaken environmental standards by rolling back regulations and his record of putting former industry executives and lobbyists in key policymaking positions.

Here’s a fact check of his remarks.

What Mr. Trump Said

“One of the main messages of air pollution, particulate matter is six times lower here than the global average.”

It’s true that America’s air is much cleaner than it was five decades ago. But Mr. Trump is including years of progress that took place under his predecessors.

Of the six “criteria” air pollutants tracked by the Environmental Protection Agency, four actually increased in 2017, Mr. Trump’s first year in office: carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and two measures of particulate matter pollution. (It should be noted that data for 2018 is not yet publicly available, while single-year increases for the six metrics have occurred under previous administrations as well.)

Independent analyses have also found that air quality has declined under Mr. Trump’s watch. The Associated Press reported that there were 15 percent more days with unhealthy air in the United States both in 2017 and 2018 than on average from 2013 to 2016. The American Lung Association found that “ozone and short-term particle pollution worsened in many cities” from 2015 to 2017 compared with 2014 to 2016.

What Mr. Trump Said

“Every single one of the signatories to the Paris climate accord lags behind America in overall emissions reductions.”

The United States cut its annual emissions of carbon dioxide by about 800 million to 900 million metric tons from 2000 to 2016, according to estimates from the Paris-based International Energy Agency and the United States Energy Information Administration. That is indeed that a larger overall emissions reduction than any of the signatories to the Paris climate agreement.

But the United States is also the second-largest emitter in the world and one of the largest per capita emitters. By more meaningful metrics, the United States lags behind many other countries.

In that time period — before Mr. Trump took office — the United States reduced total emissions 15.7 percent, according to the International Energy Agency. That rate was below that of more than 20 signatories to the Paris agreement, including advanced economies like the United Kingdom (28.7 percent), Sweden (26.9 percent) and Italy (22.5 percent).

In emissions per capita, the United States reduced emissions by about 26.3 percent, behind more than a dozen signatories including Denmark (38.7 percent), Britain (36.1 percent) and Sweden (34.6 percent).

It’s also worth noting that the United States’ emissions increased in 2018, according to the Energy Information Administration and an independent research firm.

What Mr. Trump Said

“Last year, the agency completed more Superfund hazardous waste cleanups than any year of the previous administrations and set records at almost every year. … We have made great strides cleaning up damage near a paper plant in Kalamazoo, Mich., something that was beyond fix-up. They thought it was never going to happen.”

There are more than 1,100 toxic Superfund sites on the government’s National Priorities List of the most hazardous sites in the country. It takes years, sometimes decades, to clean up a site before it is “deleted,” or removed from the list.

In the 2018 fiscal year, the E.P.A. reported deleting 22 sites from the list, the most since 2005. But construction work was completed on all 22 sites before Mr. Trump took office. For example, soil cleanup and contamination monitoring wrapped up at a recycling site in Pennsylvania in 2016, nearly three decades after it was added to the list and two years before its removal.

Mr. Trump has also sought to decrease funding for cleaning up the sites in every budget he has proposed.

The paper plant in Kalamazoo has been on the National Priorities List since 1990, and cleanup work on the site began long before Mr. Trump took office.

In 2017, the Trump administration did name the site as one of 21 that needed “immediate and intense attention” for a task force created by Scott Pruitt, the former E.P.A. administrator. That designation does not result in additional funding, but pinpoints sites that could benefit from the administrator’s “direct engagement” in expediting cleanup.

What Mr. Trump Said

“For the first time in nearly 30 years, we are in the process of strengthening national drinking water standards to protect vulnerable children from lead and copper exposure.”

Mr. Trump is referring to the E.P.A.’s plan to reduce childhood lead exposure, released in December 2018. The plan includes four goals with few concrete deadlines. The Environmental Defense Fund called it a “a repackaged and updated version” of programs that began during the Obama administration.


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