Trump Climate Exit Panned in Bonn But Cheered in Lordstown, Ohio

(Bloomberg) -- Kevin Scott took a swig of his Pabst Blue Ribbon and professed his love for the environment. Inspired by a boyhood hunting and fishing, the 46-year-old Ohio autoworker earned a degree in environmental policy.

But Scott is also proud of his vote for President Donald Trump, who pledged to rescind environmental regulations and ditch the global Paris pact on climate change. In the hard-hit northeastern corner of Ohio, the promise of bringing back steel and other factory jobs is the primary concern. Scott says his support of the president’s move to exit the Paris climate is about fairness, not the environment.

"I’m glad we did," Scott, the son of a steelworker, said when asked about the proposed withdrawal. "If you’re going to worry about global warming then everybody on the globe should be doing something about it -- or following the same laws."

As the international climate negotiators in Bonn, Germany scramble to salvage a global climate pact after Trump said the U.S. would bow out, the president’s backers in the industrial heartland are cheering him on. Whether it’s ditching Paris, moving to slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency or rescinding a series of environmental regulations, interviews in the industrial area of Lordstown, Ohio, show those moves are popular among factory workers. They see them as Trump making good on his pledges to restore factory jobs.

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Democrats had a history of coming to the area and making union workers promises they never kept, said John Russo, who taught labor studies at nearby Youngstown State University for more than 30 years. "When Democrats didn’t come through, Trump’s appeal made a lot of sense and they said, ‘Let’s give this guy a try.’"

Union workers now say they see that Trump is trying. While environmental groups are suing and Democratic governors are making their own pilgrimage to Bonn to pledge they will tackle climate change, polling shows Trump’s supporters support his moves on Paris and the EPA.  

While a majority of voters in every state support the Paris accord, a majority of Trump voters either oppose it or don’t know if the U.S. should participate in it, according to polling by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

"His base, especially his hard-core base, they applaud these measures, but they are really the only ones," Andrew Baumann a Democratic pollster for the Global Strategy Group, said in an interview. "Pulling out of Paris overall is pretty unpopular, EPA cuts are pretty unpopular, but those who voted for him enthusiastically support those measures quite a bit."

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According to a poll conducted by his firm earlier this year, swing-state voters who supported Trump "without any hesitation" support his EPA cuts by a 77-percent to 23-percent margin. His "weak" supporters are split on the move.

"All the data we have is that his base is looking at this like winner, winner, chicken dinner," said Michael McKenna, who has conducted focus groups on the president’s energy and environmental policies for the firm MWR Strategies. "The bottom line is: This is everything the president said he was going to do. The guys who voted for him voted for him because he said he was going to do these things."

Trump memorably donned a hard hat and mimed shoveling coal while on the campaign trail, promising to put miners back to work. That’s a stance popular with the GOP writ large. Sixty-four percent of Republicans say they would like the president to take action to revive the coal industry, compared with 32 percent of Democrats, according to a poll the University of Texas released in April.

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"The general bottom line is Democrats are much more concerned about the environment than Republicans," said Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll. "In that sense Trump is relating to his base of Republicans because they are less worried about the environment and environmental harm."

Trumbull County, where the village of Lordstown is located, had been reliably Democratic. The county gave the Democratic candidate an average of 58 percent of the vote in the previous 10 presidential elections, according to the Ohio Politics Almanac. But Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the county, garnering 51 percent of the vote.

While analysts say a fracking-fueled bounty of cheap natural gas is primarily responsible for a decline in coal use, many here blame former President Barack Obama’s environmental policies. Trump’s pledges to revive coal and rework trade deals was a key part of his appeal to this union enclave.

"I’m glad he brought coal back in because coal needs to be continued," said Robert Tucker, an 81-year-old retired engineering manager. "Obama cut thousands of jobs out of coal territory -- West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana. He cut thousands of jobs by a presidential edict. I disagree with that. Trump disagreed with that and did something about it."

Trump is bringing jobs back, said Tucker as he stood in the parking lot of the Board of Elections where he works part time. "Yes, jobs are coming back. Yes, he’s trying to pull jobs back into this country," he said. "We are putting America first."

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Arno Hill, the Republican mayor of Lordstown, said Trump’s pledge to cut regulations resonated with him, too. President Barack Obama, he said, "went overboard."

"Do I believe in climate change? No, not really," added Hill, a retired tool and die maker, as he ate a slice of cheese pizza. "I think everything goes in cycles. Every time we sit here and the temperature hits 90 or 95 (Fahrenheit) people say, ‘Well that’s the climate change.’"

On another overcast Ohio morning, James Melfi, the well-manicured 60-year-old mayor of the city of Girard, drove an unmarked Ford sedan to a 100-year-old steel mill on the outskirts of town. He once worked at this decaying factory, following in the path of his father and grandfather. He stood in his crisp blue suit on an old bridge overlooking the Mahoning River as a freight train rumbled beneath.

"This is where it all started for me, but this is where it all started for a lot of people," he said.

Melfi, the Democratic mayor of an overwhelmingly Democratic city, didn’t vote for Trump. But now that Trump is president, he wishes him the best. "If he does well, we’ll do OK."

"Trump said these things that appealed to workers," Melfi said, his breath making clouds of condensation in the cold air as he talked. "Now he’s got to deliver."

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