Chelsea Henderson has worked on environmental policy for conservation organizations and three Republican senators.
Let’s tame at least one legend in Donald Trump’s mind — his self-proclaimed status as an environmental hero.
“I’ve won many environmental awards,” the Republican presidential front-runner said on CNN’s “New Day” on Sept. 24. He made the claim while criticizing Pope Francis’s call for action on climate change in an address to a joint meeting of Congress.
“I’ve gotten so many awards for the environment,” Trump said during a speech in Des Moines on Dec. 11. “I understand the environment; I’ve won many, many awards.”
“I think that climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax. A lot of people are making a lot of money. I know much about climate change,” Trump said on Jan. 18, two days before NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that 2015 was the hottest year on record. “I’ve received many environmental awards.”
In my 18 years working on environmental policy on and off Capitol Hill, I never heard Trump’s green record lauded. So I decided to try to identify the “many, many environmental awards” he says he has won.
I looked first at his record on clean water and air, to which he often points in defending his outdated beliefs on climate change. Trump does not mince words on climate change, which he calls “a big scam for a lot of people to make a lot of money.” However, the candidate, who has called for eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency, has promised “we are going to work very, very hard on clean air and clean water.” Just what has he done? What would a Trump administration propose to advance the goals of clean air and clean water, aside from gutting the agency that oversees the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act? His campaign website does not note any accomplishments or policy proposals on the matter. An Internet search also turned up empty.
I looked next at his apparent strength: real estate development. Perhaps Trump builds green buildings? A Google search offered no such evidence. In 2012, Trump called green buildings “green because they don’t give you enough energy” and, in the bombastic style of his campaign speeches, referred to an unnamed friend of his, “a great environmental guy,” who expressed regret for moving into a green building. This is despite that the website for Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago touts the building’s sustainability measures.
I searched the database of the U.S. Green Building Council, standard-bearers in designation of sustainable buildings, to find out whether any buildings bearing the Trump name have Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. While certification for one unit of Trump’s Chicago condo-hotel is designated as “in progress,” no building with Trump’s name is identified as having completed LEED certification.
Then I turned to clean energy. I found that in Trump’s words, wind turbines are “ruining” our landscapes and “turning out to be a disaster.” In December, he lost a legal battle to stop an offshore wind farm erected in the panorama of a Trump golf course near Aberdeen, Scotland.
My continued search finally yielded a hit, an environmental protection award the Metropolitan Golf Association Foundation bestowed on Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., in 2007. Four years later, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection cited the course for environmental violations. Not surprising, given that golf courses are not known for being environmentally sound, though builders such as Trump like to site them in locations with sweeping views. The aforementioned golf course in Scotland sits on fragile sand dunes, a site Trump once called “kind of disgusting.”
Perhaps I was overlooking something, so I contacted Trump’s campaign for confirmation of his green record. Although I received no response, it seems clear that a commitment to the environment of the scale that Trump wants you to imagine wouldn’t leave so little a trace.
Trump’s environmental heroism appears to be a legend in his own mind, a dangerous prospect given the monumental climate challenges facing our nation.