By: - April 23, 2020 5:52 am

President Donald J. Trump addresses his remarks at the tree planting ceremony in honor of Earth and Arbor Day Wednesday, April 22, 2020, on the South Lawn of the White House. | Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks via Flickr Public Domain

Michigan leaders blasted President Donald Trump on Earth Day, citing his poor environmental record and “bungling” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since taking office in 2017, Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax,” has pulled out of the Paris Agreement. His administration has moved to weaken a host of environmental regulations, including fuel-economy standards, clean air rules and protections for endangered species

During the COVID-19 crisis, the Trump administration has been quietly pushing more cuts to environmental rules, as the Advance previously reported.

On Wednesday, Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and first lady Melania Trump planted a tree on the White House lawn to commemorate Earth Day. Joined by other administration officials, Trump said, “In this time of trial, the beauty of springtime fills us with the peace and the hope of renewal.”

The Michigan Democratic Party hosted a tele-conference with state Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Environmental Caucus Chair Andrew Nowicki, and Justin Onwennu, an environmental justice organizer.

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, they argued that Trump has continued to “wage a war” on the environment, including critical clean air regulations that prevented the emission of mercury and other toxic pollutants.

Onwenu said that “Black, Brown [and] low-income communities bear the brunt” of Trump’s actions.

“For years, we’ve seen Trump and his coal lobbyist and EPA administrator [Andrew Wheeler] … cutting and attacking and undermining any environmental protections that they can get their hands on,” Onwenu said. “They’ve replaced [President] Obama’s clean power plan, which had limited harmful emissions from power plants. They have rolled back successful clean car regulations and fuel-economy standards. And they spent the past four years undermining the Clean Air Act.”

Activists in Detroit, for example, have rallied and pushed back against firms like Marathon Petroleum Corp. on its environmental record. That includes storing along the Detroit River petroleum coke, also known as pet coke, a solid carbon material that resembles coal and is a product of oil refining. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Irwin described the president’s management of COVID-19 as “bungling.”

“While the president is engaging in such aggressive buffoonery around COVID-19, there are so many other issues. We can’t forget that it’s just not us who are breathing this air and drinking this water. It’s going to be left to our children and our children’s children. These are the negative impacts of the Trump administration that are going to perhaps last longer than some of the others that we’re experiencing more acutely now.”  

Nowicki blasted the Trump administration for cutting environmental protections and hastening climate change.

“They’ve continued to dismantle these environmental protections designed to prevent mercury from poisoning our air,” he said.

The state’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) Air Quality Division (AQD) on Wednesday presented its 2019 year-in-review report. It received 16,000 original asbestos notifications, conducted more than 1,000 air quality inspections, and reviewed air emissions information from 1,700 industrial facilities across the state.

“Looking back on 2019, we see progress; but we realize our work effort cannot diminish,” said Mary Ann Dolehanty, AQD director. ”We must continue to take steps forward in not only doing our normal work, but also identifying what else can be done for the future.”

Apart from the MDP news conference, other Michigan leaders on Wednesday spoke to Trump’s performance on environmental issues and his COVID-19 response.

Mike Berkowitz of Sierra Club Michigan Chapter referenced preliminary research from Harvard University that shows that air pollution makes COVID-19 much more deadly. 

As Detroit residents suffer from COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates, the Trump administration has disputed the Harvard study, declining to tighten a regulation on industrial soot emissions and relaxing environmental laws and fines during the crisis, which largely exempts companies from consequences for polluting the air during the pandemic.

“President Trump cannot be playing games with our lives right now,” Berkowitz said. “This is not the time to be repealing clean air standards.” 

Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.