One emergency, the border wall, is fake, invented by a rogue president desperate for a political win no matter the price. Another, the climate crisis, is real, with tens of millions of citizen victims around the country. Guess which one got funded?
President Donald Trump is risking a constitutional crisis by declaring a false national emergency to fund a border wall that his own government experts say isn’t needed and won’t work, and of which he himself says, “I didn’t need to do this.”
Meanwhile, the bill Trump signed last week to keep the government open leaves out tens of billions of dollars of relief for American citizens who are victims of hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters made worse by climate change.
This should not be a shock to anyone paying close attention. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, reacting to earlier reports, last week pointedly denied that the administration would raid relief funds designated for victims of storms and wildfires to get money for Trump’s dubious border wall.
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The president, who denies basic climate science and is rolling back key climate protections, would have been taking money from its victims to escape the consequences of his own manufactured government-shutdown crisis — all to build a wall that will be ineffective and even counterproductive in improving border security.
A firestorm of criticism prevented that. Yet here we are about a month later with much the same outcome.
Republicans hide emergency spending costs
Meanwhile, the costs of climate change in American lives and money are growing exponentially. They include more damaging hurricanes, bigger and more intense wildfires, sea-level rise and the spread of infectious disease.
Congress passed more than $130 billion in emergency spending related to climate change just between September 2017 and March 2018. That’s nearly a quarter of the annual nondefense discretionary budget of the entire U.S. government. Indeed, Trump’s own National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration finds that the “cumulative cost of the 16 separate billion-dollar weather events in the U.S. in 2017 was $306.2 billion.”
Yet budget tricks keep these huge costs hidden from American taxpayers. Lawmakers and the president are not required to increase taxes to pay for emergency funding. Thus, Trump and other Republicans deny the climate crisis. Eventually, when they get around to it, they fund the recovery but hide the massive costs from public scrutiny.
White House is cavalier about climate change
Far worse is coming. Disasters exacerbated by climate change will cost trillions of dollars by the end of this century, according to budget experts. In November 2016, an Office of Management and Budget assessment warned of tens of billions in additional costs from wildfires, crop insurance, flood insurance, health care spending and other problems related to climate change.
But instead of acting to address the climate change crisis and its costs, Trump is actually rolling back key climate protections at every chance. He is overturning major rules to cut emissions from power plants, cars and trucks, oil and gas development and many other areas, purposefully making the problem worse. One wonders when the American people are going to tire of Trump risking their safety, the economy, the deficit and our long-term security for his own perceived political gain.
Trump’s responses to the record-breaking hurricanes that hit America in the past 18 months have been similarly cavalier. He directly lied about the deaths of thousands of U.S. citizens, ignoring studies showing that thousands died in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017 due to lost power at hospitals and elsewhere.
Trump ignores real crises and invents fake ones
Infamously, Trump falsely blamed mismanagement of public lands and forests as the main reason for wildfires in California and much of the West. In fact, leading experts say climate change is a key reason U.S. wildfires are getting larger; a 2016 study found they had spread across double the area affected in 1984.
Major studies have also found that up to 20 inches of Hurricane Harvey’s record 52-inch rainfall was due to much warmer Gulf of Mexico temperatures caused by climate change, and that other recent hurricanes were also made more destructive because of underlying climate change. Yet why would the president let actual science and the safety of the American people get in the way of short-term politics?
Border security is important. Both Democrats and Republicans have said so and have serious plans to address it. But Trump’s dubious border wall isn’t about security, it’s an attempt to salvage a bogus campaign pledge.
Never mind that the actual climate crisis is harming average Americans every day — costing lives, undermining our public safety and hurting our economy. Trump only does fake emergencies.
Paul Bledsoe is a professorial lecturer at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy and a strategic adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute. He served on the staff of the White House Climate Change Task Force under President Bill Clinton. Follow him on Twitter: @paulbledsoe