Donald Trump advances controversial pipelines: ‘I am to a large extent an environmentalist’ but ‘it’s out of control’

President Trump described himself as “an environmentalist” on the same morning that he signed two executive actions to advance the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, which have been strongly opposed by environmentalists.

Trump made the claim during a Tuesday morning meeting while vowing to dismantle government regulations that are intended to preserve clean air and water. He was talking to chief executives from the three largest U.S. automobile manufacturers: Ford, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors.

“I am to a large extent an environmentalist. I believe in it, but it’s out of control,” Trump said. Before taking office, he ridiculed climate change science as a hoax invented by the Chinese to handicap American industry.

During the on-camera meeting, the new president vowed to follow through on his campaign promises of slashing regulations, reducing taxes and returning manufacturing jobs to the U.S.

“We’re bringing manufacturing back to the United States big league. We’re reducing taxes substantially and we’re reducing unnecessary regulations. And we want regulations, but we want real regulations that mean something,” Trump said.

Trump’s comments aligned with his commitment to bolstering the fossil fuel industry. His self-identification as an environmentalist appears — to others bearing the label — disingenuous at best.

Flanked by General Motors CEO Mary Barra (L) and Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne (R), U.S. President Donald Trump hosts a meeting with U.S. auto industry CEOs at the White House in Washington January 24, 2017. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Flanked by General Motors CEO Mary Barra (L) and Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne (R), President Trump hosts a meeting with U.S. auto industry CEOs at the White House in January. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

“Any claim from Trump that he is an environmentalist is an outright lie,” Cassady Craighill, a spokesperson for Greenpeace, told Yahoo News. “We will not allow Trump to gaslight this country or muddy the waters with ‘alternative facts.’

Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, told Yahoo News, “Trump is an environmentalist in the same way that he is a feminist: every action and move he makes is offensive, divisive, and dangerous to the people and places we love, but he pays lip service to what he thinks people want to hear. He’s the only world leader to deny climate change and has actively attacked environmental protections from the moment he walked in the White House door.”

The announcement Tuesday morning that Trump was signing executive orders to move forward with the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines is a devastating blow to the Native-American tribes and environmentalists who had protested the projects.

On Monday, the White House reportedly sent a letter ordering the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Administration and Resources Management to freeze all contracts and grants. The EPA awards billions of dollars each year to fund environmental research and cleanups.

“Basically no money is moving anywhere until they can take a look,” an anonymous EPA staffer told Reuters.

President Donald Trump shows off his signature on an executive order about the Dakota Access pipeline, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)
President Donald Trump shows off his signature on an executive order about the Dakota Access pipeline, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump has also alarmed environmentalists with some of his Cabinet picks, including ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt has a history of opposing EPA regulations through lawsuits. Trump vowed to remove the U.S. from the historic Paris Agreement and to overturn former President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.

“Trump has been in the Oval Office less than a week, and he has already deleted all mentions of climate change from the White House website and signed executive orders to revitalize the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines,” Craighill said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also released a statement that Trump ignored the voices of millions calling for the U.S. to transform its energy system to move away from fossil fuels. He accused Trump of putting the fossil fuel industry’s short-term profits ahead of the earth’s future.

“At a time when the scientific community is virtually unanimous in telling us that climate change is real, it is caused by human activity and it is already causing devastating problems, we cannot afford to build new oil pipelines that lock us into burning fossil fuels for years to come,” Sanders said. “I will do everything I can to stop these pipelines and protect our planet for future generations.”

Tiernan Sittenfeld, the senior vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement that no amount of “alternative facts” can change that the pipelines are harmful to communities living along the routes or protect clean air and safe drinking water.

“With this disgraceful anticlimate, anti-clean water, propolluter action coming on the heels of scrubbing the White House website of important climate change information and removing the Council on Environmental Quality website altogether, the Trump administration could not be off to a worse start when it comes to the environment and public health,” Sittenfeld said. “Rest assured, we will be there to fight them at every step of the way.”

Trump had invested in Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the natural gas company developing the Dakota Access pipeline, which is routed to cross a river along a sacred tribal burial ground within a mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Trump’s team said he sold his entire stake in the company, but Sierra Club countered that he has not provided proof of divestment.

During the auto-manufacturing meeting, Trump said he’s pushing to open many factories within the United States for a variety of industries — not just for producing cars. He said though he’s pleased that the process will create construction jobs, his primary focus is long-term employment.

The president said he would make the entire manufacturing process much simpler for auto companies and anyone else who wants to do business in the U.S. so that the business climate changes from “very inhospitable to extremely hospitable.” The celebrity businessman said he has friends who cannot build within the U.S. because they cannot secure an “environmental permit” concerning “something that nobody ever heard of before.”

“And it’s absolutely crazy,” Trump continued. “And we’re going to make a short process, and we’re going to either give you your permits or we’re not going to give you your permits, but you’re going to know quickly — and generally speaking we’re going to be giving you the permits.”

Craighill said that Trump might one day acknowledge the overwhelming scientific consensus that anthropogenic climate change is a serious threat and requires immediate action, but she is not counting on it.

“The day may come that Trump finally understands the gravity of climate change when rising seas impact Mar-a-Lago,” she said, “but we won’t hold our breath.”

Rhea Suh, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “Another day, another alternative fact from the president.

“He has done nothing to manifest genuine concern for the environment. He has done a tremendous amount, however — in a very short time — to show that his presidency will create unprecedented risks for our air, water, wildlife and public health,” Suh said in a statement to Yahoo News.

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