The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller

‘Centrist’ free-marketeers misconstrue Reagan’s land use legacy

Photo of William Perry Pendley
William Perry Pendley
President, Mountain States Legal Foundation

After three decades excoriating Ronald Reagan, those he called “environmental extremists” or “modern-day Luddites,” faced with Reagan’s growing popularity, are trying a new scheme: persuading those who never knew Reagan and what he believed, wrote and said, or did as president, that he was a big-government Republican. Outfits such as R Street Institute, a so-called market-based, environmental think tank and other groups recently exposed as “Green Decoys,” promote a revisionist history that Reagan embraced the 1970s “bi-partisan environmental consensus” that federal land ownership and control of one-third of the nation’s land and 1.5 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf benefits the country, bolsters national security, and boosts local economies and that America should have more of it.

Last fall, for example, R Street Institute argued that jobs could be created and businesses supported by spending more on public lands and putting more federal lands off limits to the American people in restricted classifications such as “parks, wilderness and monuments.” Furthermore, culling a Reagan quote from an obscure 1988 report (the Council on Environmental Quality), R Street calls for spending nearly a billion dollars a year to acquire more federal land.

That is odd because Reagan believed the opposite, writing, for example, “I wonder how many Americans are aware of their government’s insatiable hunger for land?” Furthermore, Reagan put his money where his mouth is by seeking to zero out the federal government’s land acquisition budget.

Reagan emphasized the big three issues of his day: the economy, energy, and foreign affairs, which he saw as intertwined. The nation could not revive its economy, solve the energy crisis, face down the Soviet Union, and deal with the Middle East, if it did not develop energy and mineral resources beneath the nation’s federal lands. Carter, who predicted America would run out of natural gas by 1990, and the environmental groups that supported him and opposed Reagan, said no. After his inauguration, Reagan moved aggressively to develop these resources and did as no other president before him: he paid close attention to federal land and environmental issues — in fact, he personally researched and wrote his key radio addresses on these issues.

What Reagan believed, what he wrote and said, and what he did as president on the subject fill Sagebrush Rebel, which I commend to environmental revisionists and those who know how great Reagan was on foreign and economic policy. They will learn Reagan was similarly great regarding federal lands and environmental policy. Reagan thought the federal government owns too much land, was illegally and unconstitutionally seizing private property from people, and was mismanaging the land, water, and wildlife entrusted to it.

Reagan thought laws like the Endangered Species Act were creating great mischief, the worst of which was yet to come. Most significantly, Reagan, a self-proclaimed “Sagebrush Rebel” who was livid over the mistreatment of westerners by federal agencies doing the bidding of environmental extremists, believed in federalism, the “greatest guarantee against tyranny by a centralized national government.” Specific examples of Reagan’s approach abound.