President Donald Trump held an event to tout his administration’s previous work on the environment Monday during a speech at the White House, despite having rolled back numerous regulations intended to fight the climate crisis.
“From day one my administration has made it a top priority to ensure that America is among the very cleanest air and cleanest water on the planet,” Trump said in the East Room. “We want the cleanest air. We want crystal clean water and that’s what we’re doing and that’s what we’re working on so hard.”
During his speech, Trump held up his decision to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, the cleanup of some polluted sites around the country and the opening of some public lands for hunters as examples of positive moves made by his administration. He also repeatedly emphasized the role a strong economy plays in environmental protections.
Trump also took time to criticize the Democrat-led Green New Deal, which is a vast legislative plan aimed at fighting climate change and would remake substantial parts of the American economy. Trump said the plan would be too expensive and would harm private business
“If you go 150 years from now and we’ve had great success, that’s not a number that’s even thought to be affordable,” Trump said. “It’ll kill millions of jobs. It’ll crush the dreams of the poorest Americans and disproportionately harm minority communities. I will not stand for it. We will defend the environment, but we will also defend American sovereignty, American prosperity, and we will defend American jobs.”
Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt were among the Cabinet members in attendance.
Trump claimed that he gave his Cabinet secretaries “clear directions to focus on environmental challenges so we can provide the highest quality of life to all Americans.”
“In addition to clean air and clean water that means being good stewards of our public lands, prioritizing cleanup of our polluted lands that threaten our most vulnerable citizens and threaten them very dearly, and implementing pro-growth policies to implement innovations and new technologies which improve American life and America’s environment,” he added.
Wheeler, during the event, spoke about the administration’s improvements in environmental monitors like air pollutants, as well as touting the administration’s efforts on water infrastructure and environmental provisions for marine litter in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Wheeler told press during a phone call previewing the speech on Monday that he planned to discuss that “air pollution has continued to decline under President Trump’s leadership.”
“We’re acknowledging, and I think the American public needs to understand that they believe if they listen to the news every night they’d think the air’s gotten worse over the last 49 years when actually the air’s gotten better,” Wheeler said.
Though Wheeler claimed during the call that climate change was being addressed by the administration, it was not brought up by administration members during Monday’s White House event.
White House Council for Environmental Quality Chair Mary Neumayr repeatedly emphasized during the call that the President’s message would be focused on touting improving environmental protections alongside a thriving economy.
Asked why the President decided to hold the remarks and whether the Democrats’ Green New Deal would be brought up during remarks, Neumayr said it was discussed when Trump spoke to his advisers about his administration’s environmental actions.
“The President meets regularly with his advisers and while discussing the administration’s environmental policy recently President Trump wanted to highlight some of the environmental actions his administration is taking to advance environmental protections as our economy has continued to grow,” she said.
Environmental advocates criticized the White House event ahead of Trump’s speech.
Environmental Defense Fund Action President Joe Bonfiglio said, “Trump has obviously seen the polls showing that Americans care about clean air, clean water, and solving climate change – so today he’s reportedly going to try to do the impossible: talk his way out of the most damaging and backward environmental record in American history.”
And ahead of the speech, the Sierra Club said the President “has quickly established the worst record on the environment and climate action of any president in the history of the country.”
Trump has repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of climate change – even when it comes to reports compiled by his own administration. He’s claimed windmills cause cancer and repeatedly said the US has the cleanest water and air. The US – along with nine other countries – is ranked no. 1 for cleanest drinking water in the world by the 2018 Environmental Performance Index produced by Yale and Columbia universities and the World Economic Forum. However, the EPI states the US ranks 10th for air quality and 29th for water and sanitation quality.
“We have the cleanest air in the world in the United States, and it’s gotten better since I’m President. We have the cleanest water; it’s crystal clean. And I always say I want crystal clean water and air,” Trump said last month in Ireland, adding, “We’re setting records, environmentally.”
This story has been updated after the President’s speech.
CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed to this report.