PALM BEACH, Fla. — While Democratic presidential candidates have called for sweeping measures to eliminate the U.S. carbon footprint, President Trump is promising voters a world free of the everyday inconveniences associated with combating climate change – rolling back lightbulb regulations, ordering a study on low-flow toilets and turning bans on plastic straws into a campaign rallying cry.

The contrast is shaping up to be a key theme of the 2020 presidential race as Trump bets that his pitch to a bygone era will sway voters turned off by calls from some Democrats on the left for a transformative Green New Deal.

Democrats respond by arguing that the president’s comments on climate – which are often false and frequently veer into the bizarre – are out of step with science and modern-day voters who want to protect the planet.

Trump’s anti-environmentalism message was encapsulated in a weekend speech to a conservative group in South Florida that included a diatribe against wind-powered turbines – arguing that building them produces “a tremendous amount of fumes” and that the “windmills,” as he calls them, are noisy, unattractive and kill too many birds.

“I’ve seen the most beautiful fields, farms, fields – most gorgeous things you’ve ever seen, and then you have these ugly things going up,” he said of the wind turbines. “And you know what they don’t tell you about windmills? After 10 years, they look like hell.”

The broad nostalgia encapsulated in Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan has become increasingly specific as he has zeroed in on consumer-facing issues like environmentally-conscious appliances, carbon-reducing fuel standards and plastic straw bans. Often operating on his own feelings rather than scientific evidence, the president has castigated Democrats’ environmental agenda as unworkable and counterproductive.

Trump has made the same nostalgic appeal on other issues – ranging from his mocking of the #MeToo movement to his unfounded claim that his election allowed people to say “Merry Christmas” again. But when it comes to energy-related issues, the regulatory moves of Trump’s administration have easily merged with his campaign messaging.

On Friday, the Energy Department announced it would keep incandescent and halogen bulbs on the market rather than phasing them out on Jan. 1. The move offered a reprieve for old-fashioned lightbulbs affects roughly 3 billion – nearly half – of the bulbs in sockets in U.S. homes.

“If you like your lightbulbs, you can keep your lightbulbs!” the official White House Twitter account posted Saturday. “The Obama Admin tried to limit Americans to buying more-expensive LED bulbs for their homes – but thanks to President @realDonaldTrump, go ahead and decorate your house with whatever lights you want.”

Trump has said he wants to campaign heavily against the liberal Green New Deal proposal, pledging to “rip that sucker” just two months before the election. Most of the Democratic presidential candidates do not support the most ambitious version of the Green New Deal plan, which lost momentum after the concept was introduced by a small group of lawmakers earlier this year.

By focusing on convenience issues like cheaper lightbulbs and plastic straws – which the Trump campaign began selling this summer to protest bans in some cities – the president is appealing directly to a segment of voters who say they want government to leave them alone, said Doug Heye, a Republican strategist and former spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

“For his base, especially, it hits on something that’s tangible, that’s tactile and that voters like,” he said. “It also hits on those broad themes of freedom and liberty and government encroachment on people’s daily lives.”

Democrats and environmental activists have said Trump is selling out the long-term health of the planet in an attempt secure short-term political gain. Trump’s lightbulb decision, for example, will would boost energy costs by $14 billion a year and will generate 38 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, according to consumer group estimates.

“The Trump administration’s repeated attacks defy the common-sense, bipartisan support that energy efficiency has long enjoyed,” said Steve Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. “They will cost consumers and businesses money, create uncertainty for businesses as rollbacks are contested in courts, add to harmful pollution, and undermine our efforts to address the climate crisis.”

At the Democratic presidential debate last week, several candidates described climate change as an existential threat to the planet, pledging to make it a top priority if elected. Several criticized Trump for not focusing enough on combating global warming.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has used his presidential campaign to mock Trump’s comments about wind turbines, often sarcastically referring to him as a “great” or “profound” scientist for his unfounded claims linking wind energy to cancer. Sanders has also labeled Trump an “idiot” for calling climate change a “hoax.”

Trump’s defenders point to his economic record and say the president’s focus on reducing regulations has helped spur job growth without harming the quality of the nation’s air or water.

“Unlike the previous administration, President Trump believes you can grow the economy and protect the environment,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. “While eliminating harmful and unnecessary regulations, this President has unleashed the American economy, provided greater regulatory certainty, achieved energy independence, and continued to safeguard the water supply and improve air quality.”

While the administration has spent three years working to roll back nearly 100 federal rules governing energy and the environment, Trump has taken a particular interest in those affecting the coal industry, auto sector and appliances, according to several top administration officials.

The administration is also working to scale back national gas mileage standards, even though several major automakers have pledged to meet the more ambitious targets established under Barack Obama. Early next year, the Transportation Department and Environmental Protection Agency are expected to finalize a rule that would increase mileage targets for cars and light trucks each year by between 1 and 1.5 miles per gallon through 2026.

Trump has said the rollback will help bolster America’s auto industry. He has criticized car manufacturers who have agreed to meet tighter standards adopted by California and more than a dozen other states as “foolish” and “politically correct.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: