The Conservative as Environmentalist: From Goldwater and the Early Reagan to the 21st Century
56 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2017 Last revised: 8 Nov 2017
Date Written: February 17, 2017
Today, we often think of conservatives as opposed to environmental regulation. Yet it has not always been so. Conservative icons like William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater took vigorous public stands in favor of environmental protection. Ronald Reagan championed protection of wilderness when he was governor of California and oversaw the creation of the state’s pollution control agency. He shifted to an anti-regulatory stance in the early years of his presidency, but then shifted again to a more moderate position. Few people know that he personally championed the international ozone agreement and signed a law to require planning for possible climate change. Even today, there are important conservative voices advocating environmental initiatives such as a carbon tax.
This Article recovers the forgotten history of conservative environmentalism. It argues that conservative environmentalism faded largely because of external political forces, such as the influence of the fossil fuel industry. These forces may be abating, opening the door for a more vigorous debate about environmental policy within the conservative movement and in the broader public arena.
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