By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON, July 8 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump will claim America is “leading the world” on environmental issues in a speech on Monday aimed at touting progress in some areas while defying criticism from environmental groups who have blasted his steps to slash green regulations and back out of global efforts to fight climate change.
The planned speech has been slammed by conservation groups who noted that Trump has reversed steps to fight climate change, one of the biggest environmental challenges facing the planet. They have also criticized the administration for allowing the United States to slip on other basic measures of environmental health such as air pollution and enforcement.
"The President will deliver remarks at the White House on Monday and recognize his administration’s environmental leadership and America’s role in leading the world," White House spokesman Judd Deere told Reuters in a statement.
Trump will be joined during the speech by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Council on Environmental Quality chief Mary Neumayr and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
An administration source familiar with the event said the speech will likely highlight a decrease in some air pollutants since Trump took office, focus on efforts to clean up highly-polluted Superfund sites, and emphasize a federal credit program to help states fund drinking and wastewater projects.
Another source familiar with the event said Trump is also likely to highlight the fact that the United States has become the world's biggest oil and gas producer.
"The greatest success story is that we have done all this without undermining environmental protections," the source said.
The speech will also mark the EPA’s formal completion of the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule to encourage efficiency from coal-fired power plants. It replaces the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, a signature climate change measure that would have forced utilities to shut down coal plants.
Jill Tauber, vice president of litigation, climate and energy at Earthjustice, which has filed 120 lawsuits against the administration, ridiculed Trump for claiming that his agenda protected the environment.
"It’s absurd for President Trump to claim any environmental credentials when his administration continues to drive a destructive pro-polluter agenda at the expense of the American people," she said.
SLIP IN THE RANKINGS
Since Trump took office, his administration has rolled back over 80 environmental rules, vowed to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, and opened more federal land to drilling and mining.
The administration has rejected the scientific consensus that climate change is driven by fossil fuels consumption.
The administration has also touted that U.S. air and water quality remain among the best in the world. But critics have noted that air and water quality have slipped in recent years after years of improvements following the imposition of stronger environmental regulations.
The United States was No. 27 globally in environmental performance in 2018, down from 26th during the last year of the Obama administration, according to the Environmental Performance Index https://epi.envirocenter.yale.edu, a project by Yale and Columbia universities to measure performance on air, water, forestry and other metrics.
EPA data https://www.epa.gov/air-trends, meanwhile, show increases in fine particulate matter emissions – like soot and smoke from the combustion of coal and oil - nationwide since Trump took office, something health officials say can increase the risk of lung disease. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by David Gregorio)