Among the many falsehoods in Trump’s first State of the Union speech was a line about how the government wouldn’t abandon climate disaster survivors. Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food and Water Watch, rips apart the lies.
UPDATE: The New York Times has reported Federal Emergency Management Agency aid of food and water assistance is not coming to an end for Hurricane Maria survivors in Puerto Rico and that an agency official mistakenly told NPR that FEMA planned to cut assistance on Jan. 31.
Although this may have been mistakenly reported, the Trump-appointed head of FEMA said in response to 2017’s U.S. deadliest and costliest year of climate disasters “I didn’t come up here to do status quo, I’m ready to change the face of emergency management.” Long told CNN, on record, and that the burgeoning demographic of US disaster survivors, “will have to take care of themselves.”*
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In the opening remarks of the State of the Union speech, President Donald Trump referred to the climate disasters that struck the United States this past year.
DONALD TRUMP: We have faced challenges we expected and others we could never have imagined. We have shared in the heights of victory and the pains of hardship. We have endured floods and fires and storms, but through it all, we have seen the beauty of America’s soul and the steel in America’s spine. To everyone still recovering in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, everywhere. We are with you, we love you and we always will pull through together, always.
SHARMINI PERIES: The State of the Union speech was delivered the day before FEMA officially shut off aid and food to Puerto Rico. Trump also bragged about his administration’s rolling back of environmental regulation, promotion of fossil fuels including the so-called clean coal, all of which are very much drivers of climate change, fueling more intense disasters such as Hurricane Maria, Irma, Harvey that devastated Puerto Rico, Texas and the Gulf Coast states.
With us to discuss these contradictions in the Trump administration is Wenonah Hauter. She is the executive director of Food & Water Watch. Thanks for joining us, Wenonah.
WENONAH HAUTER: I am thrilled to be here.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you, Wenonah. We are happy to have you here. Wenonah, Trump applauded the individual efforts of a Coast Guard helicopter pilot flying into the face of Hurricane Harvey and, of course, a California firefighter saving lives. He affirmed support for survivors of climate disasters but that was done the day before FEMA cut off aid to Puerto Rico, which still has 20% of the population without power and many lacking access to clean water, all the while he was praising the rolling back of environmental regulations. I know this is a tall order I’m asking you, but explain these inherent contradictions that are going on.
WENONAH HAUTER: Well, first of all, we know that Trump is a performer. He is able to have lies roll off his tongue and make it sound as if it’s something else altogether. So, I think it was easy for him to talk about individuals and their role while those of us who follow what’s going on can see that it’s really about privatizing everything possible and making money for Wall Street while pretending to help his base. Trump has an incredibly dystopian view of the world and he is easily able to be very cynical without even trying.
SHARMINI PERIES: Wenonah, President Trump again talked about clean coal as he did in his campaign trail. Going through states like Kentucky and West Virginia, he often talked about bringing back coal jobs. Now, the State of the Union was no exception. He did talk about clean coal once again. Repeat for us, and I know you’ve talked about this before with us, can coal be clean and is it a job provider?
WENONAH HAUTER: Well, first of all, he is not bringing back coal. Coal is a old, dirty energy technology, and with all of the drilling and fracking, natural gas is just cheaper to use today even though it’s very dirty and the methane is making climate change worse. So, he can talk about the war on coal and pretend that he’s going to bring coal back but it’s not coming back and it’s for economic reasons. It’s just another one of his very cynical takes on what’s going on.
Actually, to talk about clean coal is really an incredible lie because coal is extremely polluting. There is no evidence that there’s any technology to make coal really cleaner and to make the carbon pollution go away. So, the idea that we would continue to use coal is, really, it’s criminal.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And it’s also an insult to the people that are in, say, West Virginia fighting back and saying, “This has had tremendous impact on our health, our environment, on our kids and families,” and yet he’s ignoring these realities. Give us a sense of the kind of fight-back that’s going on in states like West Virginia.
WENONAH HAUTER: Well, West Virginia, Kentucky, there are people running for office who want to change the policies of their state. Just last week, we were contacted by some activists in Martin County, Kentucky, where a terrible accident occurred with coal sludge around 2000 and now their water is ruined. There’s no money to fix their water infrastructure and they want to double their rates. The people have formed a committee and they are demanding that their legislators take a look at this and that something is done to help their situation.
You know, I think it’s really telling when people in places like West Virginia, Kentucky, in many of the communities where Trump attempted to lie to people and bring them on board and where people did vote for him, where there’s now a fight-back, especially people running for Congress. I think it’s really incredible that we see more than 390 women around the country that have already declared that they’re running for Congress. So, I have a lot of hope. We work on renewable energy and have the 100% renewable energy by 2035 bill that we worked with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard on, and we have seen such tremendous interest in that bill. We’ve already had 100 Members of Congress, or rather 100 candidates for Congress pledge that they will support that legislation.
To me, that’s what’s more remarkable than all of the lies that Trump told as part of the State of the Union and all of the propaganda that he put out there. The fact is that people know that they’re being lied to, they’re organizing in their communities, and there really is going to be a blue wave, I think, come November because of all of this activity. So, rather than being discouraged by Trump’s dystopian view, his view of the future being one that’s neo-feudal, I really have a lot of hope that we’re going to turn things around because people, millions of people, have been activated.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, talking about turning things around, one of the ways that a lot of cities across the world have dealt with the issue of the fossil fuel and the kind of energy it takes to run cities is by building high speed railways, building better infrastructure for transportation and so forth. But Trump did talk about infrastructure building last night. Let’s listen.
DONALD TRUMP: I am asking both parties to come together to give a safe, fast, reliable and modern infrastructure that our economy needs and our people deserve. Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to produce a bill that generates at least 1.5 trillion dollars for the new infrastructure investment that our country so desperately needs. Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process, getting it down to no more than two years and perhaps even one.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Wenonah, President Trump called on both parties to come together to pass a major infrastructure bill. He called on Congress to allocate at least 1.5 trillion dollars to overhaul the nation’s bridges and roadways. Normally when we talk about infrastructure, we think, “Oh, great. It’s about updating and making things run more efficiently and using less energy,” and so forth. What’s Trump thinking about here?
WENONAH HAUTER: Well, this is one of the most disingenuous pieces of his State of the Union and actually what his advisors are putting out there. Let’s be clear. This is a made up number. There is no new money being proposed. What the Trump administration wants to do is take the 208 billion dollars that generally is in the federal budget and do what they call repurposing it. That means they want to open it up so that it can be leveraged by Wall Street, there can be higher interest rates. They will incentivize communities that privatize their infrastructure repairs. Whether it’s water system or something to do with transportation, those communities would get some of this pot of money.
This is all about raising rates and costing Americans more money. When we’re talking about water infrastructure, we know private water is 59% more expensive than public water systems. About 84% of our systems are public but those greedy water companies want to privatize them. So, what the Trump administration is proposing to do is taking those federal dollars and opening them up so not just municipal governments but so that private companies can use that money. The other thing that we should remember, those federal monies have decreased about 77% since the late 1970s. So, there’s a lot less money even available.
In the area of transportation, what this really means is more roads with tolls, higher rates for any of this transportation. None of it is about the Federal Government helping to rebuild infrastructure, it is literally a plot to make Wall Street money and to let private companies privatize what should be things that public dollars pay for for the common good. This is nothing but a new type of neo-feudalism. We really have to get the message out there that this is not about new monies. That’s why when Trump talks, sometimes he says a trillion, sometimes he says 1.7 trillion. These are all made up numbers.
SHARMINI PERIES: Also in the speech, Trump focused a lot on immigration reform, linking immigrants to actually criminality and therefore needing to build huge walls in terms of infrastructure. I find all of this a terrible irony here in that the growing number of refugees coming across the Southern US border are fleeing conditions created by climate change that huge American corporations, multinational corporations such as Exxon and Mobil who reap the benefits of fossil fuel in their countries and have gained huge financial profits from it, who are also criminally responsible for some of the devastation caused in their homes that these people are coming from.
So, who’s really responsible? Again, I’m affirming what you’re saying about putting more money in the pockets of multinational corporations and Wall Street but link the immigration issues and the crisis of refugees coming to the United States and Trump’s policies here towards them.
WENONAH HAUTER: Well, this is just another example of Trump’s racist agenda where he tries to use immigration as a way to explain why many Americans are suffering from the stratification that’s caused by big corporations, the terrible trade agenda that both parties have supported. We should be really concerned about how he is misusing this word infrastructure and really playing on people’s fears. We know that people don’t really want to come to the United States to work in low paying jobs but these policies, these US policies, whether it’s trade, whether it’s the policies that are causing climate change, whether it’s all of the problems that are causing droughts and the world water crisis. These are problems that in large part have been caused by the United States and are making people flee so that they can have some kind of hope to provide for their family. Again, it’s just the worst kind of racist talk.
You know, I just remembered one other thing I’m going to mention about Trump’s lies that relates to another kind of infrastructure, and that is gas and oil infrastructure. We know that Trump is a big supporter of the oil barons and the gas barons and he has a very cynical new proposal for a fund. It’s called the Public Lands Infrastructure Fund, and what this is about is selling our public lands and also allowing more drilling on public lands, our precious National Monuments, and also out in our, the waters around the United States, creating a pot of money and then letting the oil and gas industry or Wall Street invest in projects that are high risk. It is partnered with a lot of deregulation and really doing away with our basic environmental laws.
SHARMINI PERIES: That’s an important point you are making. I should have asked you that earlier in our interview but I think the public lands issue and the building on the public lands all require a segment of its own. Wouldn’t you agree, Wenonah?
WENONAH HAUTER: Yes, I think that’s right.
SHARMINI PERIES: Okay. We’ll do that with you very soon. I know you have to go so I thank you so much for joining us. We will do the segment on public lands and building on them as Trump is planning to do in the near future. Thank you, Wenonah.
WENONAH HAUTER: Sounds great. Thank you so much. Bye bye.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.