“From day one, my administration has made it a top priority,” US President Donald Trump said as he started a controversial speech on America’s environmental leadership on Monday.
The address aimed at touting progress in some areas while defying criticism from environmental groups who have blasted his steps to slash green regulations and back out of global efforts to fight climate change.
Trump said America was a leader in providing clean drinking water, had slashed air pollution and was cutting carbon emissions, all while bolstering industry and reducing regulation.
"A strong economy is vital to maintaining a healthy environment," he said.
"Punishing Americans is never the right way to produce a better environment or a better economy. We have rejected this failed approach and we are seeing great results."
Green groups scoff
The planned speech has been slammed by conservation groups who noted that Trump has reversed steps to fight climate change, one of the biggest environmental challenges facing the planet.
They have also criticized the administration for allowing the United States to slip on other basic measures of environmental health such as air pollution and enforcement.
Jill Tauber, vice president of litigation, climate and energy at Earthjustice, which has filed 120 lawsuits against the administration, ridiculed Trump for claiming that his agenda protected the environment.
“It’s absurd for President Trump to claim any environmental credentials when his administration continues to drive a destructive pro-polluter agenda at the expense of the American people,” she said.
What the data say
EPA data show huge improvements in air quality in recent decades since the imposition of landmark environmental regulations like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.
But they also show some increases since Trump took office, in fine particulate matter emissions like soot and smoke from the combustion of coal and oil.
The United States also slipped in the global environmental rankings to No. 27 in 2018 from 26th during the last year of the Obama administration, according to the Environmental Performance Index, a project by Yale and Columbia universities to measure national performance on air, water, forestry and other metrics.
Trump's speech comes at a time of growing national support for strong environmental protections. He is widely seen as vulnerable on that issue ahead of next year's presidential elections.