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WA Policy expert hopeful after attending Trump’s environmental speech

Plastic lines the beach in Tauranga, New Zealand in 2011. (AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, Mark Mitchell)

Todd Myers, director of the Washington Policy Center’s Center for the Environment, came away feeling hopeful after President Trump’s environmental speech at the White House last week.

Myers and his colleagues work toward market-based environmental policies, that seek to create a better environment without hurting commerce.

“A lot of our existing approaches are very government-heavy, and they don’t work out because they work against people rather than with them,” he said. “And we think that there are a lot of [policies] that can help the environment that work with the economy, work with personal freedom.”

While Myers has been skeptical of the president’s environmental policies, he accepted the invitation to go to Washington, D.C. and hear what the commander-in-chief had to say.

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“I think if we want to help the environment … you have to get ideas from all places,” he said. “There’s this weird sort of forced narrow-mindedness that goes on right now, which is, ‘You spoke to someone I disagree with, therefore I’m writing you off,’ which I think is really counterproductive for the environment.”

Oceanic plastic pollution

A large focus of the environmental speech was on oceanic pollution.

The new North American Free Trade Agreement helps developing countries that are big contributors of plastic in the ocean to reduce their plastic waste through education and the sharing of technology.

While Myers normally disagrees with the president on his trade policies, this was one that he could get behind.

“Most of the plastic pollution in the ocean doesn’t come from the United States, Mexico, or Canada, it comes from overseas, it comes from Southeast Asia … Trade can be a really powerful tool to help what is a global problem,” Myers said.

It is this more international approach to the pollution problem that will make the greatest impact in the long run, he believes. He pointed out that Sri Lanka dumps four times as much mismanaged plastic in the ocean as the U.S.

“Banning plastic bags or straws here feels good, but doesn’t do very much because plastic just doesn’t get into the water from the United States,” he said. “We need to focus our efforts overseas where it makes a difference, and using trade agreements to do that, I think, is really a great approach.”

Thinning forests

The president also talked in his environmental speech of making American forests healthier and thinning forests to reduce the risk of forest fires.

It is an idea supported by Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and California Governor Gavin Newsom, both of whom are Democrats.

“This is an area of real bipartisan scientific consensus,” Myers said.

The reason the forests are as crowded as they are, he said, is not natural, but due to past lumber practices.

He acknowledged, however, that thinning forests and using the wood could be challenging in practice due to costs, as well as to a lack of forestry infrastructure after a decrease in logging.

In all, he was pleased to see a majority of the president’s cabinet present at the speech. He hopes that it was not just a PR move, but a genuine willingness to move forward with these ideas.

“The frustration I have on both sides of the aisle with environmental policy is, it is more about sending signals to their supporters rather than a real commitment to policy,” he said. “I was happy to see the people in the room; I hope the administration continues to focus on this.”

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