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Between eager domestic drilling policies and a largely anti-regulation stance on air, water and land-use issues, 21st century conservatives haven’t exactly won any points with the modern environmental movement. In fact, in recent years they’ve found themselves repeatedly on the wrong side of popular opinion when it comes to environmental issues, like air pollution and its impact on our kids' health. So much so, it’s easy to forget that the GOP was, at one time, a leader in environmental concerns.
President Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, was known as the conservation president, furthering policies that led to the modern National Park Service as we know it and increasing land in National Parks by more than 400 percent. Believe it or not, Republican Richard Nixon was responsible for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. And California’s famed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sued the federal government to be able to keep the state’s emission standards below proposed federal levels. Even the George W. Bush administration supported increased investment in measures that could lead to energy independence.
So why does today’s Republican party have such a bad reputation when it comes to matters of Mother Nature? Two words -- free market. To support heavy-handed regulation or anti-business measures would be downright anti-conservative.
So what is the GOP’s environmental approach? It can be largely boiled down to two principles:
1. Private land ownership promotes sustainable use
Republicans believe that private ownership of land is one of the most important principles of the American political system and that it encourages people to use resources wisely. Those who own the land, have the greatest interest in protecting it, after all.
2. Market-based solutions to environmental problems promote economically sound resolutions
A strong, free-market based economy is the foundation of a strong, conservative society. As far as Republicans are concerned, the fall of the free-market is the fall of America itself. Environmental solutions that interfere with the free-market aren’t considered a viable option.
So is there a compromise on the government's role in protecting the environment and keeping private land issue private? That's an issue we are certainly bound to hear more about as the 2012 presidential campaign moves forward.