with Paulina Firozi

President Trump’s top environmental deputy is going to battleground states to champion his boss’s record on clean air and water ahead of the 2020 election.

Over the past month, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler has visited a toxic waste site in Michigana landfill in Pennsylvania, and a university in Wisconsin — all swing states. He also took a trip to Georgia, a Republican stronghold that Democrats are seeking to turn blue.

His trips through states Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, hopes to capture comes as the Trump campaign aims to win back voters concerned that the president is doing too little to tackle climate change and other environmental issues. 

But the president's critics say that’s a tall order since the EPA and other agencies have spent the past three years trying to roll back dozens of environmental rules.

Now, five months ahead of the election, Wheeler is touring the Midwest to talk up Trump's environmental record.

Several of Wheeler’s events concerned protecting the Great Lakes — often a talking point for Trump at his Rust Belt rallies.

On Monday in Milwaukee, he doled out a $492,000 grant for collecting trash from the Kinnickinnic River, which feeds into Lake Michigan. 

Earlier in the month, Wheeler relaunched a Great Lakes advisory council and toured coastal erosion near St. Joseph, Mich.

Trump recently reversed course to support funding the popular Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, after his White House called for slashing its funding for three years in a row. The program gives money to nonprofit groups, local governments and other federal agencies to restore habitat and battle toxic algae blooms.

“I support the Great Lakes. Always have, Trump said during a rally last year in Grand Rapids, Mich., to announce the move. They’re beautiful. They’re big. Very deep. Record deep.”

In southeastern Pennsylvania, Wheeler talked up the progress the Trump administration has made in cleaning up closed mines and other contaminated sites.

Under both Wheeler and his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, the agency has said it will make the Superfund cleanups a priority

Also while in Michigan, Wheeler boasted how 21 areas in the Midwest have reduced their air pollution enough to meet federal air quality standards under his watch — echoing Trump, who often says the country has “the cleanest air.”

“It’s exciting to see so much progress being made on the environment across the region,” Wheeler said in a statement from southwestern Michigan.

Federal officials such as Wheeler are barred by law from participating in electoral campaigns. During his trips, the EPA chief isn't talking about the 2020 race.

The agency said Wheeler’s spate of recent trips have more to do getting back to work during the coronavirus pandemic.

“As the country moves toward reopening, EPA Administrator Wheeler is resuming travel to fulfill the agency’s mission to protect human health and the environment in all 10 of EPA’s regions,” agency spokesman James Hewitt said. “His visit this week coincides with important agency announcements that positively impact the people of Wisconsin.”

Trump's environmental critics say all that is too little, too late.

“Given the polling it makes sense Wheeler would be heading to battlegrounds to greenwash Trump’s abysmal record,” said Pete Maysmith, a senior vice president at the League of Conservation Voters, “but no amount of damage control can clean their mess up.”

The LCV’s campaign arm, which spent upward of $80 million in the 2018 election, is backing the former vice president.

John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that even if air quality has gotten better in some Midwestern counties, “there’s no sign at all that the Trump administration had anything to do with those improvements.”

Trump is trying to win over an electorate that tends to distrusts Republicans on environmental issues.

A Quinnipiac University poll in December found 57 percent of Americans trust the Democratic Party to tackle climate change. Only 37 percent of respondents thought Republicans would do a better job.

Scott Clement contributed to this report. 

Power plays

The Supreme Court removed a legal barrier to the construction of the long-delayed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. 

The high court ruled the U.S. Forest Service has authority to grant the pipeline the ability to cross under the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest. “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline begins in West Virginia and would cross Virginia before completing its 600-mile path in North Carolina,” Robert Barnes reports. “It has been delayed as builders contend with a host of setbacks handed down by federal courts. None is more crucial than the question of whether the pipeline may cross under the Appalachian Trail.” 

Environmentalists had argued that no pipeline had been granted right of way across the trail on federal land since it became part of the national park system. But the question about the trial is not the only hurdle for the multibillion-dollar project that is supposed to carry natural gas across hundreds of miles. 

Barnes adds: “Earlier this year, the 4th Circuit threw out a state permit for a compressor station in a historic African American community in Buckingham County, Va., saying the builders failed to consider whether the facility needed to move the gas along its way would unduly harm a minority group.”

An investigation found NOAA’s leadership violated its scientific integrity policy in the actions that led to its “Sharpiegate” statement.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s statement, issued Sept. 6, 2019, had backed up President Trump’s false statement about the path of Hurricane Dorian but contradicted meteorologists in its Birmingham, Ala., forecast office. 

An investigation was requested by two NOAA employees, a former NOAA administrator and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), among others. 

“The report, whose findings were accepted by NOAA’s leadership and released Monday, found Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator, and former NOAA deputy chief of staff and communications director Julie Kay Roberts guilty of twice violating codes of the agency’s scientific integrity policy,” Andrew Freedman and Jason Samenow report. “…NOAA’s scientific integrity policy prohibits political interference with the conduct and communication of the agency’s scientific findings.” 

Tonko, who has sponsored a bill that would make such violations more accountable in federal agencies, said, “It will be clear to anyone reviewing the accounts captured in this highly credible, independent Scientific Integrity report that the political leaders who interfered in our emergency response system need to publicly apologize or resign.” 

Efforts to block government research on climate change are coming from lower managers in the administration, not just Trump’s top appointees. 

That push is more and more coming from mid-level managers trying to protect their jobs, the New York Times reports, citing interviews as well as reports and surveys. 

“Government experts said they have been surprised at the speed with which federal workers have internalized President Trump’s antagonism for climate science, and called the new landscape dangerous,” the Times reports. “…An inspector general’s report at the Environmental Protection Agency made public in May found that almost 400 employees surveyed in 2018 believed a manager had interfered with or suppressed the release of scientific information, but they never reported the violations."

The American Conservation Coalition, a conservative climate group, launched an ad on Fox News to call for environmental measures in future stimulus bills. 

The six-figure ad campaign will run this week, the Hill reports.

“It features past Republican presidents such as George H.W. Bush talking about the importance of environmental protection when looking at the future,” per the report. “…The ad comes as some lawmakers, particularly Republicans, have expressed opposition to including environmental provisions in future stimulus legislation."

Coronavirus fallout

A group that formed first in 1999 to tackle environmental inequality and racism is relaunching. 

The National Black Environmental Justice Network is reforming to help address issues that have led to the disparate impact of the coronavirus on black communities. The group will address issue areas including environmental protections, climate, health care, policing and criminal justice, economic development and clean energy, the Hill reports.

“Multiple crises are causing us to fight wars on multiple fronts,” Texas Southern University professor Robert Bullard told reporters on a call, per the report. “Environmental racism kills. Unchecked air pollution and rollbacks ... make it hard for black people to breathe.”

America has lost more than 620,000 clean energy jobs amid the pandemic. 

The clean energy sector lost more than 18 percent of its workforce since March, according to an analysis of U.S. unemployment data conducted by BW Research Partnership. 

“While they represent a tiny fraction of the nation’s total job losses during the period, the clean energy industry’s contraction is a devastating blow to an industry that had been growing rapidly,” Reuters reports.

There were 27,000 clean energy jobs lost in May, a more moderate decline compared with April and March. The latest numbers are set to fall short of an expectation from BW that the clean energy sector would lose 850,000 jobs by the end of June, per Reuters.

The pandemic has forced BP to take a write-down of as much as $17.5 billion in the value of its assets. 

It’s the largest write-down in the industry in years, the Wall Street Journal reports. The oil giant may leave some of its oil and gas in the ground, as well, “because of lower energy prices and weakened demand amid the global crisis caused by the novel coronavirus.” 

The company believes the pandemic, and the resulting drop in oil prices, will have a lasting consequence and fuel fragile energy demand. “The virus will also accelerate the world’s shift to a lower carbon economy, BP said, with governments directing some of their stimulus packages to climate-friendly initiatives,” per the Journal. 

Global warming watch

Siberia’s unusually extreme weather is having repercussions around the globe. 

“This region has seen persistently extreme temperatures since the winter, which has led to a damaging Arctic oil spill, sparked early outbreaks of large wildfires and helped vault global temperatures to new milestones,” Freedman and Isabelle Khurshudyan report.

The unusual heat there, combined with above-average temperatures elsewhere, fueled the planet’s warmest May last month. 

A study published in the journal Nature Communications in 2018 suggested the inadvertent fuel spill earlier in the month caused by permafrost thawing won’t be the last permafrost-related oil or gas incident. 

“The study, which examined the effects of climate change on Arctic infrastructure, found that nearly half of the “globally important” oil and gas fields in the Russian Arctic are in areas where the thaw of near-surface permafrost could cause severe damage by 2050,” Freedman and Khurshudyan add.  

Consumer products giant Unilever announced new climate targets that include reducing much of its emissions to zero by 2039. 

The company plans to show labels on all of its 70,000 products that detail how much greenhouse gas was emitted in the process of manufacturing and shipping the product, Bloomberg News reports.

The goals make it the “most ambitious of any consumer goods company tackling carbon emissions,” per the report. “…To accomplish its new goals, Unilever will aim to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions as far as possible before leaning carbon offsets.”