In a speech last night devoted mainly to the economy, immigration, and international issues, U.S. president Donald Trump boasted of his administration’s successes at supporting the fossil fuel industry and touched upon hardships caused by recent floods, fires, and storms.
The president’s first State of the Union (SOTU) speech, which environmentalists, numerous scientists, and Democrats panned, mentioned science only in passing. It made no reference to climate change or space policy.
“We have ended the war on American energy, and we have ended the war on beautiful clean coal. We are now very proudly an exporter of energy to the world,” Trump said. He also claimed that his administration has “eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in the history of our country.”
Trump called on Congress to produce a bill “that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment that our country so desperately needs.” He said that an infrastructure bill “must also streamline the permitting and approval process.”
Multiple news organizations that fact-checked Trump’s SOTU statements challenged the accuracy of some of them, disputing, for instance, an erroneous implication that the nation exports more energy than it imports.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement that “President Trump says he has ended the so-called war on coal, but he’s really declared a war on clean energy.” He added that Trump “is correct that a comprehensive infrastructure bill is an opportunity to invest in America’s future and create jobs, but not if it undermines environmental laws, erodes worker protections, and only benefits hedge funds and Wall Street investors.”
Trump’s only reference to science was when he said, in the closing portion of the speech, that Americans “push the bounds of science and discovery.”
“President Trump’s speech was loftier in tone than others he has given, but the substance was disappointing,” Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Eos. “He said not one word about the most pressing challenge of our time—climate change—and called for ‘energy dominance’ based on fossil fuels of the past rather than [on] renewables of the future.” He added that Trump “relentlessly hawked tax cuts, which will raid our treasury of the funds we need” to address the opioid crisis, the devastation caused by fires and floods, and the challenge of training a technological workforce.
Matt Hourihan, director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told Eos, “The Administration’s last budget attempted to scale back several research and technology programs that directly support the priorities President Trump mentioned in his speech last night—including border security and threat detection, manufacturing, veterans’ health research, clean coal. We’ll see if the next budget matches the rhetoric with resources.”
Short on Science and Technology
“The role of science and technology in President Trump’s 2018 SOTU was just like the office of the director of OSTP [White House Office of Science and Technology Policy] over the past year—empty, ignored, and missed,” noted Roger Pielke Jr., professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder.
350 Action, an environmental group headquartered in Brooklyn, N.Y., criticized Trump’s mention of natural disasters without talking about climate change. The group tweeted, “Is this real life? Trump opening #SOTU talking about the devastating hurricanes and wildfires the U.S. and the world have faced this year—but of course he won’t mention the climate crisis, or the fact that the GOP’s fossil-fueled policies will only make these disasters worse.”
—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Chris McEntee, executive director and CEO of the American Geophysical Union, which publishes Eos, issued a statement in response to President Trump’s State of the Union speech.