July 11, 2019 at 5:00 am ET
With partisan sniping plaguing a divided Congress and a contentious presidential debate season, President Donald Trump on Monday reminded us that a sensible approach to conservation and environmental protection is an effort both parties can and must continue to embrace.
Americans, regardless of political affiliation, share a common interest — and a common purpose — in protecting our shared legacy: the environment. And the litany of environmental accomplishments during this administration is as diverse as the policymakers who helped enact them into law.
Lawmakers across the ideological divide have co-sponsored legislation signed by Trump representing unprecedented efforts to protect our public lands, clean up our oceans, revitalize a civilian nuclear fleet that represents our most abundant source of reliable and zero-emission power, restore the Everglades, and expand access to federal lands for outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing.
All this was done alongside Republican-led efforts to improve America’s long-term energy security and reduce regulatory red tape that often hinders real innovation and cooperation between public and private sectors and federal and local governments.
Regulation can be a useful tool in addressing specific issues but is rarely the best option in all cases. Local solutions that work collaboratively with private landowners and industry are often superior to one-size-fits-all prescriptions.
As the left marches toward variations of a big-government Green New Deal, Republicans and centrist Democrats are pursuing common-sense solutions to environmental challenges that encourage innovation, technological advances and public-private partnerships. These proposals improve environmental performance while also protecting economic growth and jobs.
Alarmists may label these efforts as too little, too late, but we need pragmatic pathways to a low-carbon energy future and a cleaner environment that are achievable. Vague promises about making the other guy pay are not only ill-defined but unpassable. What’s more, they won’t work. They are designed to appeal to voters, not deliver results.
A better approach harnesses the fundamentally and distinctly American power of competition and the free market, rule-of-law, the constitutional process, private property rights, the principle of subsidiarity, and cooperative federalism to make us the best possible stewards for the earth. Such an approach prioritizes personal freedom and individual responsibility while safeguarding the natural resources and national heritage passed down to us by our ancestors.
Instead of arguing over which party is doing more to address environmental problems, including climate change, Congress and the administration should focus on achieving the possible. That includes doubling down on innovation by investing in basic research and development of cleaner, more efficient technologies, including next-generation nuclear energy, advanced battery storage and carbon capture.
It means introducing competition to electricity markets to expand opportunities for renewable energy and empower consumers. And it means increasing opportunities to export cleaner sources of energy around the world.
And we’ve been doing precisely that under this administration and recent Congresses, following the time-honored tradition of conservative conservation going back to President Theodore Roosevelt.
Last October, Trump signed the Save Our Seas Act at a White House ceremony attended by Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, a conservative Republican, and Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a liberal Democratic champion of environmental causes. While that may seem to be a surprising trio celebrating a sweeping ecological cleanup effort, in reality these “strange bedfellows” are becoming more commonplace. Sullivan and Whitehouse have already introduced Save Our Seas Act 2.0.
Last Congress saw landmark advances signed into law that facilitate innovation in next-generation carbon capture, nuclear energy and other technologies to provide clean, reliable and affordable power to the electricity grid. These laws were part of efforts led by lawmakers ranging from Democratic Sens. Whitehouse and Cory Booker of New Jersey to fossil-fuel-state conservative Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma.
This past March, Trump signed the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, a 170-part measure named after the late-Michigan Democratic congressional lion that Outside Magazine’s Wes Siler dubbed “the single most important and wide-reaching public lands legislation package since the 1970s.” The bipartisan lands package was, as Siler noted, an “extraordinary achievement in today’s political environment.”
Smart conservation and environmental advances based on free-market principles don’t have to be so extraordinary.
Bipartisan efforts are already underway to protect at-risk wildlife through state-based and collaborative recovery approaches rather than regulation and litigation. Members of both parties are working to reform the Land and Water Conservation Fund to ensure adequate long-term resources to restore wetlands and address an escalating maintenance backlog in our national parks; support grid-scale energy storage to benefit more renewable power and improve the nation’s electricity system; clean up abandoned hardrock and coal mines that impact watersheds; restore healthy forests; and increase public lands access for outdoor recreation, hunting and fishing.
All this progress is occurring under a Republican administration demonized by the left as directing an assault on environmental protections.
We need a more honest and bipartisan conversation around energy and environmental policy wherein the environmental movement does not automatically dismiss Republican efforts. Greenwashing is one thing, but good-faith efforts to sit down and work on sensible policy solutions that protect the environment and the economy should never be rejected out of hand for political gain.
The future of our environment belongs to all of us — and all of us must continue working together to protect it.
Nan Alison Sutter Hayworth is a former congresswoman for New York’s 19th Congressional District, and she is the chairwoman of the board of directors at ConservAmerica, a nonprofit organization committed to building consensus around conservation and environmental protection solutions based on free-market ideas and conservative principles.
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