GOP should take fresh look at enviornmental policy

By Matt Beaty
Daily Cardinal – Newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Madison
October 4, 2011

There is something curious about the current field of Republican presidential candidates. They’re all about the same. Sure, there is a woman, an African-American and a couple of Mormons. But in general, they all favor lower taxes, fewer regulations, and repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, another commonality among the candidates is opposition to legislation for protecting the environment.

Republicans do not need to become raging environmentalists to help our nation or our planet. Going to either extreme of environmentalism—ignoring the environment or focusing solely on the environment—has its disadvantages. Focusing solely on the environment by passing more and more regulations stifles economic growth, something that would be devastating to our country at the moment. Furthermore, many businesses can easily avoid regulations by leaving the country. However, ignoring the environment runs the risk of ruining our drinking water and clean air.

Simply put, there is a need for the GOP to adopt a more moderate environmental policy.

The fact is, most Americans do not have a complete and utter hatred for environmental policy, as many of the current Republican candidates seem to have. Most people want sensible policies that keep the air and water clean. However, just as many people do not want policies that will hurt economic growth, like excessive regulation and higher taxes.

So what are Republicans to do? They can start by looking at their past. If they look at the policies of Republican presidents like Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, they will see that past Republicans actually passed some important environmental regulations. Nixon passed the Clean Air Extension Act of 1970, which gave the Environmental Protection Agency even more regulation powers. Reagan passed the Montreal Protocol, for which he took a lot of flack from conservatives, but did so on the advice of scientists in order to protect our ozone layer. Presidents like Reagan understood that there needs to be a mix of a healthy economy and a healthy environment for a nation to truly thrive.

Many of the Republican Party’s values come from tradition and reverence for past leaders. Forgetting that conservatism also includes conservation and caring for the environment not only leads to bad environmental policy but also to a bad Republican image.

It is easy simply to write off all Republicans for not caring about the environment. This is probably the result of most Republicans trying to ease the power of the EPA or stop carbon exchange programs. It is easy to wonder: Is any hope for Republicans promoting any environmental policy?

The answer: sort of. There are many Republicans who have supported environmental causes. U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., introduced legislation to extend federally protected wilderness reserve. U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., tried to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund when the funding was in question. Other representatives including Judy Biggert, R-Ill., have made issues like invasive species part of their platforms. And by the way, they still support lower taxes and reducing regulations elsewhere in the economy. Environment and conservatism can and should mix.

Unfortunately, environmental groups in the Republican Party are few and far between. Republicans for Environmental Protection is a group that rates and critiques GOP national legislators on their support of conservation and the environment. The Republican Leadership Council also believes in using the government to protect the environment. Instead of writing these groups off as “too liberal” for the GOP, Republicans should embrace, or at least consider, their ideas.

What all of this comes down to is the need for a return to a “big tent” Republican Party. The GOP will face hard times gaining popularity if it continues to discredit EPA findings and ignore environmental issues. Republicans need to continue supporting politicians with basic ideals like individual liberty and smaller government, but they need to be open to so-called moderates who may have other priorities, like protecting the environment. It is good for the party’s image and better for the environment.

The current Republican presidential candidates and their supporters tout their economic conservatism. But it is equally important that they realize and believe, as conservative intellectual Russell Kirk said, “Nothing is more conservative than conservation.”

Matt Beaty is a junior majoring in mathematics and computer science. Please send all feedback to opinion@dailycardinal.com

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