Donald Trump’s and Ron DeSantis’ alternative reality: If you call yourself a ‘great environmentalist’ you are one

September 15, 2020 7:00 am

President Trump, flanked by Gov. Ron DeSantis, displays his signature after signing a presidential order extending the moratorium on offshore drilling on Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic Coast on Sept. 8, 2020, in Jupiter. Credit: White House

You will be thrilled, if perhaps surprised, to hear that Donald Trump is a “great environmentalist.”

He said so himself — in Jupiter (the town in Florida, not the planet), where he declared he was “number one since Teddy Roosevelt,” bragged about his eco-friendliness, and signed an order extending the ban on oil drilling off his new home state’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

The president then allowed Ron DeSantis to detach his lips from the seat of Trump’s trousers and throw pens to the hooting crowd.

Blue Mountain Beach, in Florida’s Panhandle. Credit:

Readers with an attention span greater than a goldfish will recall that until Trump took a gander at the polls a few days ago he was all for drill-baby-drilling offshore and Florida beaches be damned.

Then Ivanka or Jared or some other member of hhis oleaginous brain trust whispered in Trump’s ear that: 1. At best, he’s tied with Joe Biden in Florida; 2. Florida voters really, really hate the idea of their pompano washing up dead on crude-covered white sands; and 3. If he loses Florida, he loses the election, and next thing he knows, a couple of loser-sucker Marines are perp-walking him out of the White House to his orange jumpsuit-fitting.

Some of Trump’s fat-pocketed enablers weren’t happy: One oil industry honcho called it “a complete ambush,” adding that Trump’s move “totally seems like a campaign sort of thing.”

The boys from the planetary rape-and-pillage bidness shouldn’t worry though, since Trump can — and probably will — change his mind again after the election.

Now, what about what Trump calls his “incredible record of natural conservation and environmental protection over the last four years”?

“Incredible” is indeed the word — as in “not credible,” or “staggeringly bad.”

Trump has reversed nearly 100 environmental rules and regulations, weakening protections for wetlands, drastically reducing the size of wilderness areas, telling oil and gas companies they needn’t report methane emissions any more, and opening up millions of acres of public lands for drilling, logging, and hunting.

He’s refused to protect wildlife habitat, assaulted the Clean Water Act, ignored air pollution (not helpful during a global pandemic that attacks the respiratory system) and suggested “sweeping the forest floor” as a solution to climate change-driven fires in the West.

And since the planetary climate crisis is just a figment of Greta Thunberg’s angry, unchill imagination, he’s put the United States on track to scrap the Paris Accord this November.

The people he appoints as the nation’s supposed environmental stewards range from the criminal to the laughable, including the now-resigned Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (he of the big hat and dubious Halliburton land deal) and Scott Pruit, the ethically-challenged, climate change-denying, tax dollar-abuser Trump chose to head the EPA — until he was forced out, trailing a noxious sulphur-cloud of scandals.

Andrew Wheeler, the sitting EPA administrator, is a coal industry lobbyist; David Bernhardt, now Secretary of the Interior, is an oil industry lobbyist; and William Perry Pendley, the acting head of the Bureau of Land Management (a Trump pick so godawful he couldn’t win confirmation even in Mitch McConnell’s degenerate Senate), the person in charge of America’s public lands, does not believe public lands should exist.

It’s fitting that Trump flew to Florida to gaslight voters and try to greenwash his appalling record: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is Trump’s chief sycophant, an expert greenwasher himself who came into office in 2019 calling himself “a Teddy Roosevelt conservationist.”

Sound familiar?

Photo by Chase Conley, from Facebook

DeSantis made grand noises about fighting Big Sugar, cleaning up our algae-choked, degraded waters, and getting serious about climate change, even appointing — to great fanfare — a “chief resilience officer” who would promote clean energy and chair a task force on sea-level rise.

She resigned after six months and has not been replaced.

DeSantis dropped his spurious interest in green issues about the same time.

He appointed builders, chamber of commerce types, and campaign donors to important water boards, but no scientists or environmentalists.

Instead of choosing, say, Dr. Bob Knight, head of the Florida Springs Institute and an aquifer expert, for the St. Johns Water Management District, DeSantis went with a former lawmaker whose signature achievement in the Florida House was blocking septic tank inspections.

Instead of vetoing developer-coddling bills preempting local tree ordinances and awarding costs to winners in challenges to developments, making it nearly impossible for ordinary citizens to file suit against environmentally damaging projects, he signed them.

And instead of slapping down the three ecologically heinous and completely redundant new toll roads tearing through heart of the state, DeSantis is cheering them on: “I think we need new roads in Florida to get around,” he said.

Actually, we don’t.

Just for a minute, wrest yourself free from the Trump-DeSantis fantasy of an America where the nasty virus is just a bad memory, the bars are open, the flag is waving, and football is ON, baby!

Lately, Florida is averaging 2,500 COVID-19 cases per day; our economy is suffering a $2.7 billion shortfall; state agencies have to cut their budgets by 8.5 percent. Education, conservation, health care, programs for the poor, the elderly, and children will all take a hit.

M-CORES projects through Florida, including toll roads. Credit: Florida Department of Transportation

Yet DeSantis is happy to spend $738 million to get started on toll roads nobody (except the asphalt lobby and a handful of Republican billionaires) wants.

The $738 million, by the way, does not include any road building: that cost is expected to run into the tens of billions.

DeSantis’s roads will destroy many acres of wetlands, woodlands, and other natural habitat, encourage strip malls and big box stores, kill small towns, and wreck what’s left of the Florida panther’s ever-shrinking habitat.

If Donald Trump doesn’t beat him to it.

Phoenix columnist Craig Pittman recently reported that the current occupant of the White House issued one of his executive orders rolling back pesky environmental review regulations, which would (among other things) faciliate a gargantuan new development in Collier County: 45,000 acres of houses, businesses, a “54-hole golf course,” roads, sand mines, and gravel mines.

In the middle of this excrescence, surrounded by McMansions and Targets, there’d be a patch of land set aside for panthers — the few who hadn’t been run over by these fine white folks in their Escalades and Range Rovers.

This is Donald Trump’s and Ron DeSantis’ alternative reality, in which if you call yourself a “great environmentalist” you are one, and if you declare that you love clean water, discharges from Big Ag, Big Phosphate, Big Sugar, and Big Poop aren’t really fouling Florida’s rivers, lakes, and springs, and if you utter the magic words “climate change,” your voters will somehow think you’re doing something about it.

Even if they then wonder why the Gulf of Mexico is so hot hurricanes turn into monsters in a matter of hours, why the river stinks, why the fish lie dead on the beaches, and why the streets of Miami and Fort Lauderdale keep flooding, even while the sun keeps shining.

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Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo.