Trump pitches Trump as suburbs’ guardian, foe of climate rules

The president touted moves to cut regulations and said a November loss to Joe Biden would destroy suburban America

President Donald Trump at a UPS facility in Atlanta on Wednesday. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump at a UPS facility in Atlanta on Wednesday. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)
Posted July 16, 2020 at 6:49pm

For the third time in as many days, President Donald Trump set his sights on a familiar target: regulations.

In a rambling and fear-mongering speech Thursday afternoon at the White House, Trump, fresh from a trip to Atlanta where he unveiled new rules to make construction projects easier to build by limiting the study of their environmental ramifications, touted his administration’s moves to cut regulations. He said his loss at the ballot box in November to former Vice President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, would destroy suburban America.

“Joe Biden and the radical left want to significantly multiply what they’re doing now,” Trump said of his campaign opponent. “What the end result will be is you will totally destroy the beautiful suburbs,” he said. “Suburbia will be no longer as we know it.”

National polls consistently show Trump trailing Biden by a double-digit margin. Winning back suburban voters, a key bloc that swept House Democrats to victory in 2018, is critical for Trump to secure a second term.

Trump also said the Green New Deal, a sweeping plan many Democrats support to decarbonize the U.S. economy, would spell disaster for the nation. 

“It’ll mean the end of this country,” Trump told a largely maskless audience on the south lawn that included Cabinet heads and Republican governors Brad Little of Idaho and Mike Dunleavy of Alaska.

[Trump’s move on key environment law feeds Democrats’ strategy]

The speech was the latest jab this week by the president over the role of government, regulations and ecosystem protections, and underscored how different the two men view and discuss regulations, especially environmental ones.

When Biden announced his massive $2 trillion climate plan Tuesday, he described climate change as an opportunity to combat racism, create jobs, protect human health and help the Earth.

“Left unchecked, it is an existential threat to the health of our planet and to our very survival,” Biden said Tuesday of climate change. “There is no more consequential challenge that we must meet in this next decade than the onrushing climate crisis.” 

Trump fired back hours later, criticizing Biden's support of the U.N. climate deal reached in Paris in 2015, electric vehicles and low-carbon buildings.

On Wednesday at a UPS warehouse in Atlanta, the president announced a final rule from the White House Council on Environmental Quality to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act, a law from the 1970s that requires environmental analysis reports for major projects, like highways, mines, drilling sites, chemical plants and refineries.

Deregulating

The new rules are written to limit the length of those reports, modify how to assess the climate change effects of a given project and complete some assessments within a year, a far speedier deadline than average now.

“We had a great day in Georgia yesterday cutting regulations,” Trump said.

The real estate mogul, who has used his time in office to undermine climate science and called climate change a Chinese “hoax,” typically describes environmental rules as impediments to business.

The president devoted much of his speech to a well-trodden list of grievances over efficiency-related matters: low-flow washers, water pollution rules, the Paris deal and new generations of light bulbs.

“Old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs — I brought 'em back,” he said. “They’re selling like hotcakes.”

Trump, congressional Republicans and federal agencies have been on a deregulatory spree.

Since the advent of the coronavirus, Republican senators have urged the Trump administration to “sunset all” rules waived during the crisis and bump them back to the beginning of the federal rule process. Trump signed an executive order directing all federal departments to find rules "that may inhibit economic recovery" and alter or erase them. And federal agencies have issued more than 730 rules or proposals since Feb. 11, when the World Health Organization released the name of the virus, according to one independent tally. 

Just 2 percent of those related directly to COVID-19, the group behind the tally, Accountable.US, said.

White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow touted to reporters the shortening records in the Federal Register, a catalog of rules and agency statements.

"We will continue the president's policies of reducing burdensome and costly regulations,” Kudlow said. "I mean we've cut 25,000 pages out of the Federal Register."

Court losses

The Trump administration has suffered dozens of losses in court since 2017 on environmental cases and other topics, often by failing to follow standard federal procedures, submitting shoddy paperwork and, according to federal judges, arbitrarily interpreting the law.

It has often run afoul of NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires agencies to give a reason for a rule change and meet certain paperwork deadlines.

The latest example came Wednesday, when a federal judge in San Francisco,  Yvonne Gonzales Rogers, vacated a Bureau of Land Management decision to unwind a rule to limit natural gas flaring and methane emissions on federal lands. The previous rule, from the Obama administration, will be reinstated.  

"BLM systematically ignored the basics of rulemaking and steamrolled over the APA and NEPA framework to advance certain special interests," Gonzalez Rogers wrote.

Biden said at a fundraiser Wednesday his three top priorities for his first 100 days would be climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and the economy, according to a news release the campaign distributed.

But Biden, referring to Trump, said, "It’s becoming sort of a moving target the first three, it depends on what this guys’ gonna leave me with — not a joke, I mean it."

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.