with Paulina Firozi


In recent weeks, President Trump has begun honing his message on the environment for his 2020 reelection bid.

It amounts to this: Make the Great Lakes great again.

Both with the presidential bully pulpit and through the White House budget office, Trump has been teeing up the argument that he is a champion for the Great Lakes and the Everglades. Those treasured bodies of water are in or adjacent to key swing states he needs to win to be reelected.

They include not only the Great Lakes — which collectively border Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, states Trump won in 2016 by less than 80,000 votes altogether — but also the Everglades in the perennial swing state of Florida.

“It’s certainly part of Republicans’ plan to carry Florida,” said Susan MacManus, a professor emerita of political science at the University of South Florida, who for years ran a poll of Floridians’ policy preferences.

For the environment in general, she added: “It just an issue that has continued to elevate in importance.”

But that presidential support doesn’t extend to similar programs protecting bodies of water off the coasts of solidly blue states, leading to charges from environmental critics of political favoritism for pro-Trump constituencies.

“Donald Trump is like a mafia don, using government to punish his perceived political enemies, and doling out gifts to states from whom he wants to buy votes in next year’s election,” charged Tom Pelton, author of the book “The Chesapeake in Focus” about the cleanup of one of those overlooked bodies of water, the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia.

Critics also point out that Trump is promising to fund the Great Lakes and Everglades programs only after the White House threatened multiple times to cut money to them in its official budget requests to Congress.

The Trump campaign, for its part, is already incorporating the funding commitments into its messaging.

“As predecessors before him eliminated funding for important environmentally based initiatives like the Great Lakes Restoration Act, President Trump has made funding a priority,” said Erin Perrine, Trump’s deputy communications director.

And the president is testing his Everglades message to Florida voters on Twitter.

For the past three years, the White House has submitted to Congress requests to slash — or at times, eliminate — federal funding contributions to the cleanup efforts of various regional waterways, including Puget Sound along the northwestern coast of Washington and Long Island Sound between New York and Connecticut.

Even when Republicans controlled the House, the requests were dead on arrival. But they sent the message to fiscal conservatives that Trump was committed to trimming federal spending.

The programs for the Great Lakes and Everglades found themselves in the budget-clipping crosshairs of the White House, too. But this week, the White House amended its official budget proposal to add $270 million and $137 million back to the Great Lakes and South Florida programs, respectively.

The change of heart came after a sustained lobbying effort from Midwestern and Florida members of Congress to restore waterway-related money flowing into their districts.

Since 2017, a bipartisan coalition of Midwestern members has peppered Trump and White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney with letters urging them to support spending more money on the recovery of the Great Lakes, which for years had been plagued by industrial pollution from Rust Best factories.

“Unfortunately, I've had to fight for adequate resources for this important program ever since I got to Congress, as both the Obama and Trump administrations proposed cuts to it in past budget requests,” Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio) said, referring to Obama administration proposals that called for cuts to Great Lakes spending as well.

That effort culminated in March when Trump told a crowd in Grand Rapids, Mich. — the last stop of his 2016 campaign — that he would fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, contradicting his 2020 budget proposal that called for a 90 percent cut to the program.

“I support the Great Lakes. Always have. They’re beautiful. They’re big. Very deep. Record deep,” he said.

A day later, while touring Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, which flows into the Everglades, members of the state’s congressional delegation, including Republicans Rep. Francis Rooney and GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, pressed Trump to keep funding high for water infrastructure at and around the lake.

The lake’s Herbert Hoover Dike, for example, is badly in need of repairs that would allow the Army Corps of Engineers to keep water levels high in the lake and reduce the need to discharge into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. That polluted water contributes to algae blooms that can cripple Florida’s beachgoing economy.

In front of reporters, Rubio suggested Trump could “go down in history as the 'Everglades President.' ”

“The Everglades is very important and very important to me,” Trump said in response while standing in front of the lake.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) praised President Trump on March 29 for having the chance to "go down in history as the Everglades president." (Reuters)

Rooney, whose southwest Florida district is near the 1.5 million-acre Everglades National Park, said the president’s commitment this week to fund Everglades restoration projects should do him some good in the polls there in 2020.

“It's one more instance of the president doing what he said he would do when he was campaigning,” Rooney said, referring to Trump’s promise in 2016 to make the Everglades a priority.

Washington’s Puget Sound never received such a commitment from Trump. But it faces some of the same problems with the buildup of toxic chemicals in the water, which imperil fish and marine mammals as they accumulate it in their bodies. The state's governor wants to spend more than a $1 billion on recovery for the sound's iconic orcas, even going so far as to propose a partial ban on whale watching.

Trump’s budget proposals, however, would eliminate federal contributions to restoration.

“Puget Sound is not different than the Chesapeake or the Everglades in terms of its importance to our economy or to our regions’ identities,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) “This isn’t a partisan issue.”


— EPA watchdog says agency could recover wasted $124K: The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general suggests the agency should recover almost $124,000 in “excessive” travel expenses by former administrator Scott Pruitt. “The findings, issued nearly a year after Pruitt resigned amid controversy over his spending, travel and ties to lobbyists and outside groups, highlight the fiscal impact of his penchant for high-end travel and accommodations,” The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report. That six-figure sum is the amount spent flying the then-administrator and security agent first- or business class, instead of coach.

Is it possible to get the money back? It seems unlikely, Eilperin and Dennis write, “given Pruitt’s departure and the fact that half the money paid for the agent’s airfare.” Plus, the EPA itself rejected the idea of recovering the funds, calling “cost recovery inappropriate” in response to the IG report since officials authorized Pruitt’s trips at the time. Congressional Democrats lashed out, with Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) saying "this isn’t a joke, and the Trump administration should take it seriously."

Still: There is precedent for a Trump administration Cabinet member to pay back costs deemed improper. Former Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price said on the day of his resignation that he had written a personal check to the U.S. Treasury for charter and military flights he took while in office.

— “No political consultant is telling him to lead with climate”: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), whose mission is to become the climate change president, has personlly experienced the difficulty of enacting policies to slow global warming, The Post’s Joshua Partlow reports in this dispatch from Olympia, Wash. “Inslee’s path so far suggests that even a seasoned politician and environmentalist will face a thorny tangle of resistance to any effort to wean the American economy off fossil fuels,” he writes. “His long record has been marked with more climate defeats than victories…Even in environmental Eden, the politics of climate change are a grind.”

— California vs. Trump: The Trump administration followed through on its plan to cancel $929 million in federal funds for California’s high-speed rail project. The Transportation Department charged that California officials “failed to make reasonable progress” and had failed to meet federal requirements for the project, The Post’s Michael Laris reports. In February, the president in a tweet called the project a “green disaster,” and state officials said pulling the funding for the project was “political retribution” for California’s efforts against the president’s proposed border wall with Mexico

— Republican lawmakers disregard Trump on tribal bill: The House passed a measure to allow a Massachusetts Native American tribe to retain 321 acres of land for a casino on a 275-to-146 vote with the help of nearly four dozen Republican lawmakers. The president had urged Republicans to reject the bill. “But the effort to reinstate the Mashpee's historic homeland could still face an uphill battle," E&E News reports, since the president ultimately needs to sign the bill. The Post’s Marc Fisher reported this week that the tribe’s site is just 18 miles from Rhode Island, where “politicians aren’t keen to have a new competitor go up against their two casinos, both of which are run by Twin River Worldwide Holdings, a public company with strong Trump ties.”


— A massive Gulf oil spill is finally being contained after more than 14 years: The U.S. Coast Guard announced more than 30,000 gallons of oil have been collected over several weeks, The Post’s Darryl Fears reports. A containment system was put in place 12 miles off the coast of Louisiana by contractor Couvillion Group. The company's owner and chief executive called it “a temporary solution to an evolving problem. We’ve contained the oil but it’s still being released into the environment.” In September, the spill will enter its 15th year.

— New York rejects pipeline: The administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) turned down a permit for a controversial $1 billion pipeline that looked to connect natural gas fields in Pennsylvania to New Jersey and New York. The agency said the “the pipeline would result in water quality violations, including those caused by kicking up hazardous metals and disturbing seabed habitats,” Bloomberg News reports. The denial still allows the company to reapply, and Williams Cos. said it plans to resubmit its application soon.


— “It’s quite eye-opening”: After Washington, D.C., saw its wettest 365 days on record, The Post’s Jason Samenow set out to explain what was driving the precipitation, and whether it was a result of the changing climate. “

The short answer is that the historic rainfall over the past year is somewhat of a random occurrence. It is mostly a result of weather patterns that have frequently arranged themselves, by chance, in an optimal way to squeeze water from the sky,” he writes. “Yet, at the same time, this record-wet year has occurred against a longer-term backdrop of climate warming and increasing precipitation extremes. In other words, climate change probably intensified the rain and increased the chance it would become a record breaker.”


Coming Up

  • House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife holds a hearing on the president’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposal for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on May 21.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands holds a legislative hearing on May 22.
  • The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management holds a hearing on disaster preparedness on May 22.

— If a tree falls in Washington... The National Park Service is trying to save a 55-foot mulberry tree that has fallen on the grounds of the Washington Monument. The tree is believed to have seen more than a century of U.S. history. “The tree appears, pretty well grown, in an aerial photograph from 1919, and [Park Service arborist Jason Gillis] theorizes that it was ‘preestablished in the landscape’ by then and may date to around 1890,” The Post’s Michael E. Ruane and Dana Hedgpeth write