The GOP’s legacy of conservative conservationism
How can you be gay and a Republican? It’s a question I’m often asked by Democrats, and one I’m always happy to retort. Gay Republicans exist: deal with it. Similarly, liberals sneer at the notion that Republicans support the environment. Well, we do — but unlike the breathless doomsday predictions of blowhards like Al Gore, conservative conservation policy is rooted in practical reality. As Earth Day is today, a rundown of the GOP’s history supporting sound sustainable policy is apropos.
Republican support of environmental sustainability and preservation goes all the way back to the party’s founding. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln established Yosemite Valley and its famous Mariposa Grove of sequoias as a public trust, thus beginning the great Republican tradition of protecting land for the express purposes of preservation and for the enjoyment of future generations of Americans. Less than a decade later, President Grant took up Lincoln’s mantle and signed the Yellowstone Act of 1872, creating Yellowstone National Park.
Republican presidents of the following century took it upon themselves to protect and preserve our nation’s landscapes. In 1908 Teddy Roosevelt saved a portion of the Grand Canyon as a national monument. The “Conservation President” also founded the U.S. Forest Service and over the course of his presidency created 50 wildlife refuges and five national parks in addition to protecting 150 million acres of timberland as public lands.
More than half a century later, President Nixon continued this conservative tradition and pioneered environmental protection policies — establishing the Environmental Protection Agency by Executive Order and signing numerous pieces of environmental protection legislation. Nixon’s dedication to environmental sustainability brought us clean air and water standards and ensured marine mammals and endangered species the opportunity to thrive.
Conservative icon Ronald Reagan similarly understood the value of Republican solutions to sustainability issues. At the beginning of his presidency, he signed the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) which continues to protect these vital ecosystems including 273 million acres of coastal lands to this day. By prohibiting new federal expenditures on undeveloped coastal barriers, Reagan successfully saved the taxpayers money while advancing natural resource preservation.
Reagan championed environmental efforts in other areas as well. The 1985 farm bill required farmers on federal subsidies to meet conservation and sustainability standards, with the aim of protecting wetlands and preventing erosion. Reagan also had a strong record on controlling pollution; under his presidency, carbon monoxide emissions fell by 25 percent and particulate pollution by 40 percent.
Moving into the current century, President George W. Bush had a strong record on environmental protection. Under his presidency, stricter clean air standards were adopted, resulting in dramatic declines in power plant and diesel engine emissions. And President Bush’s leadership on endangered species recovery successfully saved the Bald Eagle from threat.
The Republican record of protecting and preserving our environment is as old as the party itself and speaks to the core GOP principles of wanting to preserve the beauty, integrity, and American way of life for future generations.
Republican environmentalists exist: deal with it.
Gregory T. Angelo is the Executive Director of Log Cabin Republicans. Visit www.logcabin.org for more information.