Ronald Reagan was probably the last really great leader to serve as president of the United States. Although disdained and considered a dangerous ideologue by most elites while he was in office, history has given him a pretty good verdict. Reagan restored growth, won the Cold War and, when circumstances forced him to, even stabilized a Social Security system that was on the brink of collapse.

Even among Reagan fans, however, his environmental record rarely gets much credit. Many of my fellow conservative Reagan fans are dismissive of environmental concerns and a roughly equal proportion of environmentalists are disdainful of the conservative goals that Reagan himself emphasized.

This is a shame, because Reagan’s record on the environment, although far from perfect, is a pretty good model for a conservation agenda that just about everyone should embrace. As I describe in the Weekly Standard , the Reagan administration took major steps to end subsidies for environmentally destructive activities, pushed for and negotiated a smartly designed agreement to phase out harmful chlorofluorocarbons and did a good job balancing conservation, recreation, and resource extraction on public land. This agenda saved money while still making very real environmental progress.

This success also shows that command-and-control regulation is not the only way to help the environment.  While it would be inadvisable to suggest repeal of current protections like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the regulatory approach they embody is just one way to improve our common home on Earth. Withdrawing subsidies for environmental destruction and attaching real prices to polluting activities—the approach Reagan favored—can work as well or better in many circumstances. Ronald Reagan proved it.

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