President Trump today will sign an executive order boosting U.S. involvement in the international Trillion Trees Initiative, the White House said this morning, an effort to bolster the president’s environmental credentials ahead of the election even as he continues to downplay climate change.
The initiative, launched early this year at the World Economic Forum, aims to plant and preserve 1 trillion trees around the world to sequester carbon.
"Through today’s Executive Order, and on the heels of the Great American Outdoors Act signed into law by the President just 2 months ago, we continue to prioritize forest conservation in America and around the world," Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, said in a statement.
The president committed the United States to the initiative at the forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, in January, and it has since become a talking point for the GOP and one of the few climate-related policies Republicans are willing to support, despite their continued backing for fossil fuels.
The new executive order, first reported by Axios, will create a Trillion Trees Interagency Council made up of representatives from 14 federal agencies, a White House official said.
Trump’s daughter and her husband, White House adviser Jared Kushner, will serve on the council, which will create a methodology to track the progress as well as identify governmental and regulatory limitations to planting and conserving trees.
Kushner has led much of the White House focus on the Trillion Trees Initiative, at the urging of Salesforce.com Inc. CEO Marc Benioff, according to reporting from Bob Woodward’s book "Rage."
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt will co-chair the panel. Other members include economic adviser Larry Kudlow, Council on Environmental Quality Chair Mary Neumayr, EPA chief Andrew Wheeler, and Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought.
The White House has not released the official text of the order, but its background material does not mention climate change or carbon sequestration.
The order mirrors an idea proposed by congressional Republicans in the "Trillion Trees Act," introduced earlier this year as H.R. 5859 by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.).
Westerman spokeswoman Rebekah Hoshiko said the congressman had been in touch with the White House about the order but was still awaiting final details this morning.
While planting trees would sequester carbon, experts say it would do little to solve climate change without more expansive policies to reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions.
The initiative is nonetheless at the forefront of Republican messaging on climate. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) included Westerman’s bill in a package of carbon capture and climate bills he put together with his deputies earlier this year (Greenwire, Feb. 12).
Trump also brought up the initiative during the first presidential debate when moderator Chris Wallace asked about climate change, though the president referred to it as the "billion trees project."
Westerman has said his bill is not a panacea for addressing climate change. Trump, for his part, has aggressively downplayed climate science and attacked Democratic proposals to tackle it on the campaign trail.
The president has instead sought to make energy issues central to his campaign — falsely accusing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden of saying he would ban hydraulic fracturing throughout the country.
Tonight, Trump will hold a campaign rally in Johnstown, Pa. — an energy-rich state that both campaigns see as critical.