US President Donald Trump boards Air Force One on August 4, 2017, at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland as he travels on a 17-day vacation to Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Don’t look now, but the national news media finally appears to be catching onto the fact that, amid all the chaos within the Trump White House and the media’s own hyper-focus on the Russia Collusion narrative, the Trump Administration is actually producing a sea-change in energy and environmental policy. While I and other contributors here at Forbes.com have been chronicling this massive shift in federal public policy throughout the year, the rank and file reporters at national media outlets appear to have finally awakened to this phenomenon late last week.
David Graham at The Atlantic started things off on August 2 with a piece titled “Trump Has Quietly Accomplished More Than It Appears.” The piece broadly chronicles the achievements of the Trump Administration’s first 200 days in an array of policy areas, one of which is energy and the environment:
The most prominent move was Trump’s June 1 announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate accord. But the EPA is moving on other fronts as well. It’s working to dismantle Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a signature policy aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. In June, following a February executive order from Trump, the EPA began the process of rescinding the 2015 Waters of the United States rule, which aimed at protecting smaller bodies of water and streams in the same way that larger ones had been. In December, in the closing weeks of his administration, Obama banned drilling in the Arctic and parts of the Atlantic Ocean; the Trump administration promptly set about undoing that ban.
The next day, Amy Harder at Axios followed The Atlantic with a piece titled “Chaos Obscures Washington’s Biggest Policy Change.” The full piece is well worth reading (Ms. Harder’s pieces always are), but here is the key passage:
Climate and energy have typically been issues most people don’t care much about, especially compared to their healthcare, their jobs and their evening plans. But some of the biggest changes happening in Washington now are in this area, right at the time it’s receiving the least attention. On nearly all other policy issues, such as healthcare and tax reform, there’s at least agreement among President Trump and both parties in Congress that something needs to be done. On climate change, the environment and energy, the parties don’t even agree anything needs to be done.
My thought bubble: The chaos in Washington comes up all the time in my conversations with sources whose jobs are devoted to wonky energy and environmental issues. The impact so far is intangible. We are just six months into this administration and the process to repeal regulations is slow, litigious and messy. But the direction of repealing Obama’s policies is clear, and people I talk to on all sides of this policy area are simultaneously frustrated at the lack of attention and bewildered at the constant drumbeat of chaotic news.
The Atlantic curiously characterizes Trump’s policy achievements as the work of some sort of “shadow government” , implying that the Administration has tried to keep its policy initiatives secret. The truth is that the Administration, desperate to get credit for its accomplishments, has gone out of its way to trumpet every policy action as loudly as possible; the problem has been that the media itself has found it more profitable and audience-building to focus on the “chaos”. If these outlets have missed out on the shifts in energy and environmental policies, they have no one else to blame.
Indeed, it is almost comical that any of this so obviously comes as a surprise to anyone in the media. After all, it wasn’t as if then-candidate Donald Trump made any secret of his intentions while on the campaign trail. At rally after rally, all televised nationally and with a huge herd of reporters present, Trump specifically talked about taking the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accords, restarting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects, increasing the amount of federal lands available for leasing, his plan to kill the EPA’s Waters of the United States regulation, and on, and on, and on. More than any presidential candidate in modern history – perhaps ever – Trump talked about energy policy at every opportunity.
As I pointed out a few months back, what he has done related to energy and environmental policy is exactly what he repeatedly – and very, very loudly (it often seemed as if he didn’t know he had a microphone) – promised to do at dozens, if not hundreds of campaign events. The seeming ease with which he has done it should also come as no surprise since so much of what President Obama accomplished while in office was effected via regulation and executive orders rather than via legislation. Trump has had little need for congressional cooperation to reverse a broad swath of Obama-era policies.
But perhaps Trump’s focus on doing exactly what he said he would do during the campaign is central to the issue: Reporters who cover our national politics just aren’t used to that kind of politician. That’s a sad thing to consider, but it’s probably true.
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