President Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday to make his pledge to help plant, restore, and conserve a trillion trees a reality.
The executive order puts some federal government muscle behind Trump’s announcement in January that the United States would help plant a trillion trees as part of a World Economic Forum initiative designed to address climate change.
Trump has avoided mentioning climate change when touting his announcement, but he and Republican lawmakers have used the trillion trees effort to tout their environmental bona fides.
“Promoting healthy and resilient forests in the United States has been a top priority for President Trump and his administration,” a White House official said. Ivanka Trump, in a statement, also pointed to Trump’s signing in August of the Great American Outdoors Act, a major bipartisan conservation bill.
Trump’s order sets up an interagency council to oversee the U.S. “trillion trees” push. The council, which will include top members of the White House and 14 federal agencies, will develop a way to track how many trees are grown, restored, and conserved by the federal government, as well as U.S.-based companies, cities, and other groups.
In August, more than two dozen companies, cities, and organizations formed the first nationwide chapter of the 1 Trillion Trees initiative. Those participants have pledged to plant, restore, and conserve 855 million trees by 2030. Members of the Trump administration, as well as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, are serving on the advisory group for the chapter.
The new White House council on 1 Trillion Trees will also identify regulatory barriers to government efforts to plant trees, the White House official said.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt will co-lead the council. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow and deputy chief of staff for policy coordination Christopher Liddell will also help oversee the effort.
“There’s a reason that Trillion Trees as a policy initiative has taken root on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue,” said Heather Reams, executive director of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, a conservative clean energy group. “It’s a meaningful, commonsense approach to mitigating climate change that Republicans and Democrats alike can support.”
Earlier this year, McCarthy and Arkansas Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman introduced legislation to support tree-planting efforts.
House Democrats, though, have expressed skepticism about Republican support for tree-planting as a way to combat climate change. While Democrats say they also support tree-planting to curb emissions, they want Republicans to address first the need to reduce fossil fuel production and consumption.
Environmentalists slammed Trump’s order as an attempt to “greenwash” his policy record, despite dozens of actions eliminating or weakening Obama-era climate, air, and water pollution rules.
“This is the latest attempt from Trump to distract voters from four years of destructive climate policies,” said Lori Lodes, executive director of Climate Power 2020, an environmental group pushing people to vote on climate change. She pointed to the Trump administration’s recent step toward lifting protections on more than 9 million acres of largely untouched areas in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.
Reams, however, said that tree-planting joins a “long and growing list” of policies addressing climate change that lawmakers in both parties can support, including helping farmers capture carbon in soils through sustainable farming practices and supporting clean energy technologies such as nuclear, wind, solar, and battery storage.