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Separating Fact From Fiction In Trump’s Climate Claims

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A heat wave in Europe this week drove up temperatures to a record-breaking 115 degrees in France.  In the American Midwest, scientists said climate change contributed to torrential downpours that flooded farms and killed livestock.

In Delaware Bay, rising water temperatures are playing a role in a small but increasing number of cases of swimmers becoming infected with a  flesh-eating disease called vibrio that normally only lives in tropical waters, according to a report in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

With all of these climate-related impacts unfolding, a reporter asked President Trump at an international economics conference in Japan on Saturday why he is rolling back environmental regulations and pulling out of an international agreement, the Paris Climate Accord, meant to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that is causing global warming.

Here’s how the President responded. “I’m not looking to put our companies out of business,” Trump said at the G20 conference. “I’m not looking to create a standard that is so high that we’re going to lose 20 to 25 percent of our production.  I’m not willing to do that.  We have the cleanest water we’ve ever had.  We have the cleanest air.  You saw the reports that came out recently – we have the cleanest air we’ve ever had.”

This is an argument that Trump and Congressional Republicans have frequently made for reducing pollution control regulations and slashing the budget of the EPA.  Essentially, the claim is that environmental regulations kill jobs and that our air and water are in good shape, so we don’t need the bureaucrats.

But this deserves some fact checking… and a reality check.

Let’s start with the assertion that “we have the cleanest water we’ve ever had.”  This is a claim that is of particular interest to those of us who live in the Chesapeake Bay region, and whose culture, history and economy are tied to the bay’s health.

According to the most recent report card by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Health the bay’s overall health last year rated a 47 out of 100. That was one point lower than the 48 the bay earned in 1986, when the university’s measurements began. 

Water clarity in the bay last year – a particularly rain year, because of climate change, meaning more runoff pollution in the bay – rated a lowly 7 out of 100. That was the second lowest grade on record, and significantly worse – meaning, murkier water – than the 41 rating back in 1986.

So, no….we don’t have the cleanest water we’ve ever had.

How about air pollution?   On this point, President Trump seems to confuse the kind of pollution that causes visible air quality impairments – like smog or ground-level ozone – with the different and invisible emissions, notably carbon dioxide and methane, that researchers have concluded are driving climate change and its associated heat waves, wild fires, droughts, and flooding.

EPA statistics show a 32 percent decline between 1980 and 2017 in ground-level ozone.  But carbon dioxide emissions actually rose 8 percent between 1980 and 2017 in the U.S.  And, globally – the more important picture – annual emissions of this climate warming pollutant almost doubled overt his time frame, according to the International Energy Agency.

Okay, so how about the claim that regulating these pollutants will hurt the economy and kill jobs?    Another frequently repeated lie.  Three decades of peer-reviewed economics studies have concluded that environmental regulations have a negligible impact on the economy.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only two tenths of one percent of all layoffs are caused by government regulations of all kinds – including environmental regulations.

As it turns out, the biggest obstacle to reducing global warming is hot air from the White House.

Tom Pelton, a national award-winning environmental journalist, has hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007. He also works as director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health. From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he was twice named one of the best environmental reporters in America by the Society of Environmental Journalists.