Subject: On-the-Record Press Call on America's Environmental Leadership Under President Donald J. Trump

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
July 8, 2019

Via Teleconference

1:05 P.M. EDT

MR. DEERE: Thank you, operator. Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for joining today's background briefing on America's environmental leadership under President Trump. This previews the event that the President will be holding this afternoon in the East Room.

Today's briefing will be conducted by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Council of Environmental Quality Chairwoman Mary Neumayr. The call is on the record and it is embargoed until its conclusion. With that, I will turn it over to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

ADMINISTRATOR WHEELER: Thank you. And this is Andrew Wheeler. Thank you all for joining us.

So, this afternoon, the President is going to give an address about the environmental progress that we have made talking directly to the American people to let them know that we have made a lot of advancements and the environment is getting cleaner under the leadership of President Trump and this administration.

We continue to clean up the air. We continue to clean up the water. A few things that you'll hear me say this afternoon, for example, is that we have reduced the criteria air pollution by 74 percent since 1970, while, at the same time, the economy has grown over 275 percent. Those of you who have heard me speak before have heard me say "73 percent" in the past. We now have our air trends data that we will be releasing next week, and the new number is 74 percent between 1970 and 2018.

So it has continued -- the air pollution has continued to decline under President Trump's leadership.

Likewise, we continue to make progress on the water side. We've put out a number of water infrastructure grants and making inroads on providing -- making sure we're providing safe drinking water to all American citizens.

And then, the third area that I'll be touching on this afternoon will be on the Superfund program and the fact that we've really increased our attention to the hazardous waste sites around the country. These are sites, in particular, near low-income communities, communities at risk, communities that have been largely forgotten for decades.

Last year, we got 22 sites cleaned up and delisted from the national priority list. That’s the most number of sites in one year since 2005.

We also, of course, have moved -- are moving forward on our Brownfields program, and we are continuing to invest in communities all around the country. Our Brownfields grants -- 40 percent of the grants this year went to communities that have never received Brownfields funding ever before.

So we're trying to broaden the number of communities that have access to these important funds and that can continue to clean up their inner cities and other areas to create economic development, while at the same time cleaning up these old waste sites that have just been -- have just sat vacant for decades.

And also, I just want to mention that as part of everything that we're doing, we're also working internationally. We're working a commitment to improve the oceans. And the new trade agreement between U.S.-Mexico-Canada contains a historic, first-ever commitment to reduce marine litter, found in a trade agreement.

And this is also the first trade agreement that has incorporated environmental protections into the heart of the treaty. In the past, under the old NAFTA, it was a side agreement to NAFTA. This time around, for USMCA, we incorporated these important environmental protections into the heart of the trade agreement itself.

And with that, I turn it back over to Mary.

MS. NEUMAYR: Okay. Well, thank you very much, Administrator Wheeler. And this is Mary Neumayr with the Council on Environmental Quality. I wanted to talk just a little bit about the upcoming speech.

From the very beginning, the President has given his agencies direction to focus on addressing environmental challenges that affect ordinary Americans. The President recognizes that a strong economy is vital for a healthy environment and improving environmental protection.

Under President Trump's leadership, the United States continues to grow our economy and jobs and increase our energy security, while also leading the world in air and water quality and environmental protection.

The previous administration pursued a number of overreaching costly regulations that put American jobs at risk. This administration is seeking a practical, balanced approach that is consistent with Congressional directives and is effective in achieving environmental goals.

The President and administration officials will highlight America's leadership relating to environmental quality, environmental stewardship, and effective land management.

As Chairman of CEQ and co-chair of the Ocean Policy Committee -- established by executive order last year -- my remarks will focus on federal ocean policy and agency priorities relating to ocean research management and to science and technology.

As Administrator Wheeler has said, our administration has also taken responsible steps to address the harmful effects of marine debris, and it is a priority for this administration.

Under President Trump, this administration is focused on taking a practical approach to addressing environmental challenges while also supporting a strong economy.

MR. DEERE: Thank you, Administrator. And thank you, Chairwoman. Operator, we will now take some questions.

Q Hi, this is Patsy Widakuswara with Voice of America. Can you hear me?

MR. DEERE: Yes, ma’am. Go ahead.

Q Great. So I have two questions. The first one is: What is Ivanka Trump’s role in this speech and also in the overall administration’s policy on the environment? Can you confirm whether this is an issue of concern for her and whether she has encouraged the President to act more in this area?

And my second question is: Can you comment on criticisms from various environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, who said that, “Trump is resorting to greenhouse gaslighting the public to try and cover up the fact that he is the worst president in [the] history for the environment…”? Thank you.

MR. DEERE: On the Ivanka question, you can refer that to the White House Press Office.

ADMINISTRATOR WHEELER: On the second half of your question, the Sierra Club is ignoring all the environmental progress that this country has made. You know, 74 percent reduction of criteria air pollutants since the 1970s. In the 1970s, 40 percent of our water systems failed to meet the EPA’s clean water drinking standards. Today, over 92 percent of our water systems meet those standards every single day.

At the same time, on climate, we have reduced our CO2 emissions 15 percent since 2005.

We just came out with our ACE proposal for the electric power sector two weeks ago. That will further reduce, along with the market trends, CO2 emissions 33 to 34 percent from the electric power sector from 2005 numbers.

We will be coming out later this summer with our CAFE standards, which will also further reduce CO2 and methane. And it’s important to note on methane -- something that the Sierra Club doesn’t recognize -- is the fact that we have doubled our natural gas production since 2000, and, at the same time, we have reduced our methane emissions 16 percent. So that’s a doubling in the output with a real 16 percent reduction in methane emissions during the same time period.

So this country is making incredible progress on the environment, and we’ve continued to make incredible progress under President Trump’s leadership.

Q Hi, this is Andrew Feinberg with Breakfast Media. Can you guys hear me okay?


Q Good. Thanks for doing this call. I have two questions. First, does the President still believe that the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive?

And second question: Does the administration, or the United States government at large, have any evidence that windmills and wind power cause cancer?

ADMINISTRATOR WHEELER: This is Administrator Wheeler. You know, again, I just want to reiterate: We are addressing climate change. We’re using the laws that Congress has given us. As I mentioned, on the ACE proposal, two weeks -- not proposal -- final ACE regulation two weeks ago, which end up reducing CO2. Our CAFE standard will end up reducing CO2. Our methane proposal, which will be coming out sometime over the next month or so, will continue to reduce methane emissions from the natural gas sector. We’re taking that issue seriously.

You know, I believe that the President was concerned about some of the worst-case scenario models that were part of the national assessment last fall. And, you know, specifically those worst-case scenarios were directed by the Obama White House for the career staff to use, in particular the RCP 8.5.

We’re reexamining the models that the government is using and trying to make sure that we take away more of the uncertainties so that people understand better what is going to happen in the next 50 to 100 (inaudible).

But the worst-case scenario -- and then, also, there was a footnote that said there's going to be a 10 percent hit to the GDP, which was not included in the actual report but which was a subject of a lot of press articles.

So I think a lot of the frustration has been the focus or the fixation on the worst-case scenario instead of the medium-case scenarios that were discussed thoroughly in the assessment last fall.

And, you know, there continues to be positives and negatives for all forms of energy -- all energy sources -- and we continue to look at all of those. Thank you.

MS. NEUMAYR: And this is Chairman Neumayr. I would just add: The President has spoken on changes in climate but recognizes that a strong economy is vital for environmental protection. And he believes that we can maintain a strong economy and protect the environment at the same time.

Q Hi. Okay, yeah, this is Shirish Date at HuffPost. I've got two questions. Number one, are you guys seriously taking credit for the work done by Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, George H. Bush, and Obama for the improvements in the environmental quality over the last decade? I mean, seriously? I mean, you're making metrics starting in the 1970s? What's happened in the last year and a half? If you could speak to that.

And second, the President has said numerous times now that the United States has the best air quality and the best water quality in the world. Neither of those is true. And do you know why he said it? Is he being misinformed? Or is he just straight-up lying? Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR WHEELER: Well, as I said, the air quality continues to get cleaner. I'm pointing out the advancements that the United States has made since 1970. Since 1970, the criteria air pollution has fallen 74 percent, as it's fallen under President Trump's watch. All six criteria air pollutants have decreased under President Trump's administration. In fact, we've had double-digits decreases in both lead and sulfur dioxide over the last two years.

So, no, the air quality -- we're not taking credit for what happened before, but we're acknowledging -- and I think the American public needs to understand, if they believe -- if they listen to the air every night, they would think the air has gotten worse over the last 49 years, when, actually, the air has gotten better. Seventy-four percent cleaner than it was in 1970.

The EPA itself is 49 years old. We will celebrate our 50th anniversary. So I'm looking very carefully at what the agency has accomplished over the last 49 years. But we have seen a decrease across the board in all six of the criteria air pollutants. These are the criteria air pollutants established by Congress that have been monitored for the agency continuously since the early '70s. So we've seen decreases in those across the board.

I do believe that our air is cleaner and our water is cleaner than other countries around the world. And I think the data supports that.

Q Hi, this is Scott Waldman from E&E News. Administrator Wheeler, can you tell me why the EPA has deleted climate-related pages from its website? One of those includes a page that highlighted the risk of extreme precipitation and flooding from storms such as the one that just soaked D.C. a few hours ago. Why is your administration either downplaying or actively eliminating information related to climate change?

ADMINISTRATOR WHEELER: It is my understanding -- and I've asked my career staff this multiple times since I've been here -- we have not deleted anything from the EPA's website on climate change. We archived a number of documents and press-type reports and press releases that the Obama administration put out and highlighted on the front page of our website. But all that is still searchable on the website. It's in the archives on the website.

We had, at least for over the first year, year and a half of our administration -- I believe it still may be on the front page of the website -- a button that you can hit to go to all of the climate documents. But there is not supposed to be anything deleted, and I've been reassured again by my career staff, on multiple occasions, that we have never deleted any climate information from the website. Thank you.

Q Hello. This is Karen Rubin from News & Photo Features. Following up on the previous question about comparing 1970 data to today, it’s not really a meaningful test. I’d like to add to that: To what extent have you changed the criteria in order to show improvements? And so, for example, you say the air quality is better. But surely, the record California wildfires emitted substantial pollution and CO2 into the environment. How is that calculated?

ADMINISTRATOR WHEELER: We have not changed the standards from which we measure the six criteria air pollutants. Those are the same standards that the agency has used for 49 years now. And we have continued to show a decline. We outline all of the data in our annual Air Trends Report. You can look at last year’s report, which is still available on our website, and we will be issuing the new -- the latest Air Trends Report next week. So today’s date is a little bit of a preview for next week’s report.

Last year, we were able to report a 73 percent reduction in the criteria air pollutants. This year, we’re able to report a 74 percent reduction in the criteria air pollutants. We have always measured them based off the 1970s data to show the continual change in the quality of the air. And the air quality has, in fact, gotten better.

I personally grew up in Ohio, outside of Cincinnati, and I can tell you firsthand that the air quality in Cincinnati is much cleaner than it was in the 1970s. I can tell you, having gone to college in Cleveland, in the '80s, that the water quality in not only Lake Erie, but certainly the Cuyahoga River, has certainly improved over the last 49 years.

So, no, we have not changed the way we measure the data. That is public information. It is longstanding practices of the agency. And, actually, on the standards side, we’ve continued to increase the stringency of our NAICS standards over the years. And we continue to make improvements in the non-attainment areas around the country, moving more and more cities and locations to attainment, which shows that they are in compliance with even more stringent requirements than we had 20 years ago.

So, no, the air quality has, in fact, gotten better since 1970, and we’re using the same methodologies that the agency has always used.

Q Yeah, this is Tejinder Singh from IAT. This briefing is defined as a “Background Briefing on America’s Environmental Leadership.” Can you elaborate on how you are going to provide the leadership? Because that has to be a global effort, where you are reaching out to the other nations, other leaders.

And also, what is it that you are -- what is it that made you leave the Paris Agreement? And how you are going to replace it or make a better one? Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR WHEELER: Certainly. This is Mr. Wheeler again. And if I could start with the second half first. President Trump, when he was running for President, ran on the commitment to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, and that was a promise that he made and a promise that he is keeping.

The Paris Climate Accord is an unfair treaty, in terms of the U.S. with our trading partners -- when you see that China doesn’t have to even begin making reductions; they can continue to increase their emissions, and they are, until 2030. And other countries don’t have to make reductions either, such as India and other developing countries. So it was an unfair trade treaty for the United States.

Another aspect that a lot of people gloss over is that, under the Clean Air Act -- I believe it's Section 115 of the Clean Air Act -- if we enter into an international treaty, such as the Paris Climate Accord -- if we fail to meet our targets, those are enforceable under our domestic laws. Most other countries who are signatories to the Paris Climate Accord don’t have that same constraint.

So the Paris Climate Accord was a bad deal for the United States. It was a bad deal for the American consumer. And President Trump has been very upfront that we are more than willing to renegotiate the Paris Climate Accord if other countries are willing to come to the table and negotiate a better deal.

In the meantime, we continue to reduce our CO2 emissions. We’re reducing our methane emissions, as I outlined earlier on the call. And we continue to make progress.

In fact, we're one of the few countries -- one of the few industrialized countries that has already met their targets for the Paris Climate Accord. So, regardless of whether we're in the Paris Climate Accord or not, we continue to make progress on that front. But the Paris Climate Accord is unfair to the U.S. consumer, U.S. manufacturer, and the U.S. economy.

We are taking international leadership. We're taking international leadership on issues such as marine plastic debris. I just returned from the G20 Environmental Ministers' Meeting and the G7 Environmental Ministers' Meeting, and we are taking international leadership on this issue.
And, actually, I'll defer to Chairwoman Neumayr if she has any other comments.

MS. NEUMAYR: And I would just add that the President is taking leadership, and the President recognizes that a strong economy is critical for technology and innovation, for modern resilient infrastructure, and for environmental protection.

And so we want to -- we want to pursue a strong economy so that we will have the resources to advance technology and innovation, and build more modern and resilient infrastructure, and provide for environmental protection.

Q Sorry. I don’t know if you can hear me know. Is that better? Okay great.

I just wanted to follow up and see why exactly the President is doing this speech right now and exactly what he plans to highlight in his message. I had seen something about the Green New Deal. Is that something that he'll be talking about during this speech, as well?

MS. NEUMAYR: Well, this is Chairman Neumayr. The President meets regularly with his advisors. And while discussing the administration's environmental policies recently, President Trump wanted to highlight some of the environmental actions his administration is taking to advance environmental protection as our economy has continued to grow.

MR. DEERE: Thank you, Chairwoman. And thank you, Administrator. This will conclude our call. Again, a reminder that is was on the record and the embargo lifts at its conclusion. Thank you everyone for joining us today. Thank you.

END 1:23 P.M. EDT


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