Despite the electoral college win, Trump’s last presidential campaign wasn’t exactly known as an organized team making rational, policy-based decisions. Consider this May 2016 headline from New York: “The Good News Is That Donald Trump’s Campaign Is an Absolute Strategic and Managerial Garbage Fire.”
It’s hard to consider it good news anymore, but it appears that Trump’s 2020 campaign is still ready to make strategically hot-garbage decisions. According to a report from Bloomberg, “administration officials are developing talking points on climate change and cultivating a list of environmental ‘success stories.’” Judd Deere, a deputy White House press secretary, told Bloomberg that “President Trump believes you can grow the economy and protect the environment.”
The quote is telling: The president treats the economy and the environment as church and state, and does not appear to understand that environmental protections and clean energy can in-and-of-themselves boost the economy. For example, in the decade between 2003 and 2013, EPA regulations imposed $45 billion in costs on the economy, but drove around $640 billion in benefits. In one telling instance, the EPA-mandated cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay is expected to create 35 times as many jobs as the Keystone Pipeline. Globally, a shift to sustainable energy could save as much as $26 trillion by 2030. In November, the Fourth National Climate Assessment determined that the U.S. economy would shrink by as much as 10 percent by the end of century under business-as-usual warming models — for comparison, the Great Recession knocked off 2.8 percent of U.S. GDP in 2009. In the coming decade, as the economic and human consequences of climate change begin to rapidly accumulate, the only way to grow the economy will be to protect the environment.
Instead, in the 2020 election, the Trump campaign reportedly intends to tout EPA deregulation as an avenue for environmental protection — because self-regulation by private interests works so well for other federal agencies. “Deregulation does not always mean rolling back rules,” acting EPA head Andrew Wheeler told Bloomberg. Through deregulation, Wheeler explained how the administration is providing “greater certainty” and encouraging the public to “innovate and create cleaner and safer technologies.”
According to Bloomberg, the Trump campaign is workshopping talking points, including a replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan that does not exist yet and would require individual power plants to voluntarily cut their own emissions, which is a hard ask; and a rush job on an air-quality review that would be hurried “at the expense of strong standards for smog and soot.” The campaign intends to push its environmental record to appeal to swing voters. “For the president to win these battleground states, he’s going to have to have some record of environmental achievement to showcase,” former Trump adviser David Banks told Bloomberg.
It’s going to be a tough argument to make. In both outlandish verbal assaults and the very real bulldozing of important regulations, Trump has gutted environmental protections at a moment when they require a full investment to stave off climate disaster. In his first two years in office, Trump withdrew the United States from the vital — if nonbinding — Paris Agreement on climate change; put a stake in the Clean Power Plan; revived the sale of coal deposits on federal land; and relaxed standards on methane from oil wells and of carbon emissions from automobiles. Former campaign officials surely won’t envy the staffer who has to keep Trump on target when discussing his deregulation as an environmental win. After all, this is the president who frequently expresses his love of nonexistent “clean coal” and recently claimed that the noise from wind turbines causes cancer.