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Have Republicans Abandoned Conservative Values?

Wed ,01/09/2010

The truth is that conservation and environmental stewardship are core conservative values.

It is hard to imagine how someone can be considered a Conservative if they don’t want to conserve the most important thing we have, the environment. They claim that they actually do, but not just now, not in that way, or not if it might cost a little. They also try to perpetuate the myth that conservation and environmental protection are liberal causes to justify their opposition. The truth is that conservation and environmental stewardship are core conservative values. (1)

It is even harder to imagine why the Republican Party would embrace the ideals and arguments of those non-conservationists. Our past Republican leaders have been strong advocates for environmental stewardship and they were responsible for enacting some of our most significant environmental legislation. (2)

Theodore Roosevelt believed that conservation was essential for keeping America strong and he was responsible for the permanent preservation of many of the unique natural resources of the United States. As he said,

“To waste, to destroy, our natural resources … will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity

Dwight Eisenhower was the first President to be so taken by the beauty of the arctic wilderness that he set aside 9 million acres as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to be protected  for future generations. The Refuge remains as one of the most pristine wilderness areas in the United States.
Richard Nixon enacted many of the nation’s landmark environmental laws, which he saw as a means of unifying the nation. The EPA was created under Nixon’s leadership. According to Nixon:

“Clean air, clean water, open spaces — these should once again be the birthright of every American.” “…we must strike a balance so that the protection of our irreplaceable heritage becomes as important as its use. The price of economic growth need not and will not be deterioration in the quality of our lives and our surroundings.”

Barry Goldwater, dubbed “Mr. Conservative”, was a gifted photographer who produced beautiful pictures illustrating his beloved Arizona landscape. He put his finger on it when he said :

“While I am a great believer in the free enterprise system and all that it entails, I am an even stronger believer in the right of our people to live in a clean and pollution-free environment.”

Ronald Reagan signed 43 bills preserving a total of 10.6 million acres of wilderness. He was instrumental in U.S. ratification of the Montreal Protocol — which dramatically reduced depletion of the upper atmosphere’s protective ozone layer. He developed a cap-and–trade system that prevented our acid rain form blowing into Canada that cost much less than even the government estimated. As he communicated:

“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 well-being will be sustained only by all of us working in partnership as thoughtful, effective stewards of our natural resources.” “I’m proud of having been one of the first to recognize that states and the federal government have a duty to protect our natural resources from the damaging effects of pollution that can accompany industrial development.”

John McCain during his 2008 presidential campaign, proposed a pragmatic national energy policy based upon good stewardship, good science, and reasonableness. He cosponsored cap-and-trade bills in the Senate in 2003, 2005, and 2007 and, as he said then,

“A cap-and-trade policy will send a signal that will be heard and welcomed all across the American economy. And the highest rewards will go to those who make the smartest, safest, most responsible choices.” And he was right. Having to pay the true cost of fossil fuel use is fair and would create incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Cap-and-trade was once considered to be the market solution to reducing carbon emissions. When popular, a number of key Republicans, such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) went on record as endorsing the policy. Even Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), only two years ago, while supporting a version of a cap-and-trade bill in the Massachusetts legislature said:

“Reducing carbon dioxide emission in Massachusetts has long been a priority of mine. Passing this legislation is an important step … towards improving our environment.” (3)

Costs: But somewhere amid lobbying, big donations from power companies, and criticisms from so called conservatives who don’t really want to conserve much, the Republicans have backed off the cap-and-trade concept. They are now claiming it would cost each U.S. household $3,100 a year, a cost that has great sticker shock but is totally inaccurate. Dr. John Reilly, the MIT economist whose work was used to get that number, has criticized Republicans for distorting his work. (4) The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost of the cap-and-trade program in 2020 would average about $175 per household (5) and estimates are that associated savings would reduce the federal deficit by about $19 billion over the next decade. (6). A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences details the high economic costs of inadequate environmental legislation, such as reduced streamflow, rainfall, and crop yields (7). Estimates by the World’s top economists such as Britain’s Nicholas Stern (8) are that right now it would cost about 2% of the worlds GDP to mitigate environmental damage – but if delayed, that amount could rise to 20% or more of the world’s GDP by 2050 and put us at risk of an environmental catastrophe.

The misinformation, the damage to the environment, and waste that would be caused by not acting should alarm traditional Republicans. However, according to the Republicans for Environmental Protection, the GOP establishment has lost sight of its

“core conservative values, largely due to the influence of corporate lobbies and political leaders beholden to them for campaign support, and in opposition of the willingness of populist Democrats to embrace environmental protection. The result has been a polarizing battle that is not at all about the advance of conservative principles, but rather the advance of special interest political agendas.” (1)

(1) http://www.rep.org/index.html Republicans concerned about the environment may wish to check out this Republicans for Environmental Protection website.
(2) The quotes below came from http://www.conservamerica.org/quotes.html
(3) http://www.grist.org/article/2010-06-29-remember-when-republicans-liked-cap-and-trade/
(4) http://flavcountry.blogspot.com/2009/05/mit-economist-john-reilly-calls.html
(5) http://cboblog.cbo.gov/?p=300
(6) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38130006/ns/politics-capitol_hill/
(7) http://www.denverpost.com/headlines/ci_15536630
(8) http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTINDONESIA/Resources/226271-1170911056314/3428109-1174614780539/SternReviewEng.pdf