Ever since they were first signed into law by then-President Ronald Reagan in 1985, the so-called “conservation compliance” provisions of America’s agricultural support programs have stood as prime examples of what a conservative, market-based approach to environmental policy might entail. Like Reagan’s other great conservation achievement—the Coastal Barrier Resources Act—conservation compliance confronts an environmental problem by reducing the footprint of government and ensuring recipients of government aid are accountable to taxpayers.
This approach shows promise both as a means to steward the environment and to limit taxpayer exposure to risk. However, inconsistent enforcement of the provisions have limited their effectiveness. This paper will describe the principles behind conservation compliance, its benefits and explore appropriate implementation strategies as new regulations are promulgated. It argues that proper implementation of conservation compliance should be a leading environmental priority for the Republican-controlled Congress.