GOP and Climate: Four Old Sheriffs Ride Back Into Town

The debate in Washington over climate change in America today is pretty hard for us outsiders to comprehend. Think of two duplex owners discussing their old, leaking roof:

  • Water’s pouring in. We’ve got to replace the roof.
  • I don’t think it’s leaking. And if it is, we can’t afford a new one.
  • It’s getting worse with every rain. If we don’t replace it, the whole house will be shot.
  • You just want to make me spend more money. I don’t see water coming in on my side.
  • Whatever you see, the inspection report warned us that the roof needed replacement. Now mold is growing everywhere.
  • Those inspectors are in cahoots with the roofing contractors. The cost of a roof will break me.
  • I need a new neighbor, or else my house is history.
  • I need a new neighbor, who won’t bother me with all this leak hysteria.

In today’s polarized environment, President Obama and many Democrats want to fix the roof – or in this case, the climate crisis. Most Republican politicians wish they’d just back off.

But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, the GOP has a rich heritage when it comes to environmental protection. And a couple of days ago, four old GOP sheriffs rode back into town to help us clean up this mess. They’re the leaders of the EPA who served under Nixon, Reagan, Bush-one and Bush-two. (That’s every elected Republican president since Eisenhower.) Together, they were responsible for setting up the EPA in the first place, banning the pesticide DDT, setting auto-emission standards, phasing out toxic lead from gasoline, limiting ozone-destroying CFCs, cleaning up the PCBs from the Hudson River, controlling acid rain, cleaning toxins out of the Chesapeake Bay, and countless other measures to protect us, our children and our ecosystems.

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Nixon set up the EPA; Reagan cleaned up the Chesapeake.

You may not even know their names: William Ruckelshaus served under Republican presidents Nixon and Reagan; Lee Thomas ran the EPA for Reagan; William Reilly served under George H.W. Bush; and Christine Todd Whitman was George W. Bush’s EPA chief. If you’re breathing clean air, drinking clean water, or eating food free of toxins, you can probably thank one or all of them.

They’re Republicans. They’re smart. They understand environmental hazards as well as just about anybody.

And last Friday, they published a joint call on Congress that they called A Republican Case for Climate Action.

“The United States must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change, at home and internationally,” said the former EPA chiefs. “There is no longer any credible scientific debate about the basic facts: our world continues to warm, with the last decade the hottest in modern records, and the deep ocean warming faster than the earth’s atmosphere. Sea level is rising. Arctic Sea ice is melting years faster than projected.” 

The Republican EPA veterans called for a market-based incentive to reduce greenhouse gases, like a carbon tax. They endorsed President Obama’s recently-unveiled climate action plan. And for today’s politicians watching in horror, they went even further:

“Mr. Obama’s plan is just a start,” they said. “More will be required. But we must continue efforts to reduce the climate-altering pollutants that threaten our planet. The only uncertainty about our warming world is how bad the changes will get, and how soon.”

To those voices who claim that climate action will threaten our jobs, they have this to say:  “We can have both a strong economy and a livable climate. All parties know that we need both. The rest of the discussion is either detail, which we can resolve, or purposeful delay, which we should not tolerate.”

Who would have expected it? Expert Republican environmental leaders backing the Democrat president’s climate plan, and warning that we need to go much further! Are they the only conservatives out there talking this way? Actually, no. For years now, South Carolina Republican Bob Inglis, and the Energy & Enterprise Institute that he leads have been advocating market-based measures like a carbon tax. They make a profoundly conservative case:

“Taking stock of our conservative principles and America’s energy and climate challenges,” says their website, “E&EI believes that the solution is an energy policy which eliminates all subsidies for all fuels, attaches all costs to all fuels, and ensures revenue neutrality to prevent the growth of government.”

In simple terms, a revenue-neutral carbon tax. “Conservatism is not about passing problems and costs down to the next generations,” they say. “Conservatives want to solve problems efficiently while protecting liberty.”

Watching today’s GOP in Congress, it’s apparent that Inglis still has a bit of work to do. But the old EPA chiefs are clearly in his corner, cheering for some early successes: “What is most clear,” they tell us, “is that there is no time to waste.”

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood 

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