Ronald Reagan’s Conservation Legacy

Reagan on HorsebackRonald Reagan is revered by conservatives as the last great leader to serve as president of the United States. But he rarely gets credit for his environmental record, even among his fans.

While far from perfect, Reagan offered a model conservation agenda that both the left and right can embrace. While in office, Reagan took major steps to end subsidies for environmentally destructive activities, negotiated an agreement to phase out harmful chlorofluorocarbons and did a good job balancing conservation, recreation, and resource extraction on public lands. This agenda saved taxpayer money while still making very real environmental progress.

He also demonstrated that command-and-control regulation is not the only way to help the environment. Withdrawing subsidies for environmental destruction and attaching real prices to pollution—the approach Reagan favored—can work as well or better in many circumstances. Ronald Reagan proved it.

If we’ve learned any lessons during the past few decades, perhaps the most important is that preservation of our environment is not a partisan challenge; it’s common sense. Our physical health, our social happiness, and our economic well­being will be sustained only by all of us working in partnership as thoughtful, effective stewards of our natural resources.

— Ronald Reagan

mallard_web2The value of conservation compliance to hunters and anglers

In recent years, free-market groups and environmental activists have demonstrated they can work together effectively to root out wasteful federal subsidies that benefit environmentally destructive development. As such efforts at collaboration expand and move forward, there is one natural constituency that shares significant political overlap with both groups: sportsmen and sportswomen.

Read the study here.

A strong nation is one that is loved by its people and, as Edmund Burke put it, for a country to be loved it ought to be lovely.

— Ronald Reagan

coastal_web2Opportunities for the expansion of the Coastal Barrier Resources Act of 1982

Current government policy incentivizes behavior that both harms the environment and wastes taxpayer dollars. Rooting out these policies and finding ways to dampen their negative effects offers an opportunity to conserve more while spending less. Congress did just this in 1982, when it passed the Coastal Barrier Resources Act.

Read the study here.

The preservation of parks, wilderness, and wildlife has also aided liberty by keeping alive the 19th century sense of adventure and awe with which our forefathers greeted the American West. Many laws protecting environmental quality have promoted liberty by securing property against the destructive trespass of pollution. In our own time, the nearly universal appreciation of these preserved landscapes, restored waters, and cleaner air through outdoor recreation is a modern expression of our freedom and leisure to enjoy the wonderful life that generations past have built for us.

— Ronald Reagan

turtle_webCoastal preservation through Citizens reform

The 30-year-old federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act has been successful in promoting conservation of natural resources, fiscal responsibility, and the reduction of inappropriate high-risk coastal development by restricting federal subsidies. Restricting insurance coverage from Florida’s Citizens Property Insurance Corp. for new construction in areas seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line could yield similar results on the state level by ending subsidies to development that damages Florida’s coastal environment and destroys natural storm barriers.

Read the study here.

I just have to believe that with love for our natural heritage and a firm resolve to preserve it with wisdom and care, we can and will give the American land to our children, not impaired, but enhanced. And in doing this, we’ll honor the great and loving God who gave us this land in the first place.

— Ronald Reagan

green_scissors2Green Scissors 2012

Green Scissors 2012 recommends nearly $700 billion in cuts to wasteful and environmentally harmful federal spending. It is produced by Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and R Street. This diverse coalition of environmental, taxpayer and free-market groups has come together to show how the government can save billions of tax dollars and improve our environment.

Read the study here.

Generations hence, parents will take their children to these woods to show them how the land must have looked to the first Pilgrims and pioneers. And as Americans wander through these forests, climb these mountains, they will sense the love and majesty of the Creator of all of that.

— Ronald Reagan

strange-bedfellows3Strange bedfellows: SmarterSafer.org and the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012

This paper by R Street President Eli Lehrer, which originally appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum, focuses on the SmarterSafer.org coalition and how its success in helping to craft and ultimately enact the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 demonstrates how traditionally conservative free-market groups and traditionally progressive environmental groups can find common ground on policy matters.

Read the study here.

The Montreal Protocol is a model of cooperation. It is a product of the recognition and international consensus that ozone depletion is a global problem, both in terms of its causes and its effects. The protocol is the result of an extraordinary process of scientific study, negotiations among representatives of the business and environmental communities, and international diplomacy. It is a monumental achievement.

— Ronald Reagan

watering_crops_web2Conservation Compliance: The obscure environmental provision key to protecting taxpayers and privatizing crop insurance

The overwhelming majority of American farms receive federal subsidies of some sort. These payments are controversial and, in the opinion of many who favor smaller government, ought not to exist at all. This paper from R Street President Eli Lehrer discusses some of those subsidies and argues that ongoing efforts to change crop insurance programs should maintain and expand “conservation compliance” policies in order to aid future efforts to privatize the system.

Read the study here.

Those concerns of a national character–such as air and water pollution that do not respect state boundaries, or the national transportation system, or efforts to safeguard your civil liberties–must, of course, be handled on the national level.

— Ronald Reagan

The enduring legacy of Reagan’s conservation agenda is a set of approaches that flowed directly out of, rather than in spite of, his free-market ideology and were implemented, in part, by those people derided as dangerous “ideologues.” They include limiting government subsidies to all manner of environmental destruction; ensuring that costs are attached to environmentally harmful activities; and opening public lands for multiple uses.
Reagan, the environmentalist, by Eli Lehrer, Weekly Standard

 

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