By Megan Bergeron
History of Republican Environmentalism
The history of Republican environmentalism spans decades. On January 1st, 1970, just a few months before the very first Earth Day, President Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) into law. NEPA created a program to review and require government agencies to take into consideration the environmental impacts and consequences of their actions or projects.
After the first Earth Day celebration on April 22, 1970, President Nixon signed into law a slew of new environmental programs and agencies, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Endangered Species Act. President Ford continued this trend by championing the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, designating national parks like Isle Royal, and coordinating with several other countries to protect and expand the Endangered Species Act. All of these environmental policies and actions were passed under Republican administrations.
There are many examples of Republican environmentalism throughout America’s history, from the initial establishment of national parks under President Theodore Roosevelt to passing amendments to the Clean Air Act under President Ronald Reagan. It is important to recognize this history in order to find common ground across partisan lines when moving to pass climate legislation.
This is why many young conservative climate activists believe in a path towards bipartisan climate action.
The American Conservation Coalition
The American Conservtion Coalition (ACC) works to mobilize young people around climate solutions in ways that align with conservative values –– market-based mechanisms and a limited-government approach –– without attributing partisan labels to their work. The ACC’s current climate solution goals include energy innovation, 21st century infrastructure, nature based climate solutions, and a global approach to fighting climate change.
In addition to a broad set of goals for a bipartisan approach to climate solutions, the ACC encourages young people to get involved in their local communities to enact climate solutions and lessen climate denial. For example, in the Midwest, the human-wildlife conflict and agriculture are likely more relevant than rising sea levels and wildfires, so ACC advocates for a local focus on those issues rather than the broader spectrum of climate issues that may not have the same local immediacy.
ACC and others also promote bipartisan climate action through events held at college campuses, talking to conservative members of state and local governments, and urgently making clear that climate change must be on the political agenda.
Climate change does not discriminate based on political ideologies, and action will benefit from participation by everyone, from all walks of life and political backgrounds, coming together to find innovative, sustainable and equitable climate solutions.
Ms. Matthews: We’re raising the next generation of conservatives who grew up hunting, fishing, hiking, and that creates a deep love of the environment. Now that they’re involved in politics and advocacy, they want to protect it.
Ethan: That’s Karly Matthews, Communications Director for the American Conservation Coalition, an organization working to mobilize young conservatives to support climate action.
Ms. Matthews: We support innovation. The government can incentivize that innovation, but we think private public partnerships are the best way forward. We support renewable energies, EVs can be the future, but there’s a lot of work to do on the infrastructure on making sure that charging stations are widely available to Americans. Technologies like carbon capture are so important, as well as battery storage to increase the viability of renewables. We can encourage economic prosperity while also encouraging environmental sustainability.
Ethan: The Coalition seeks to persuade conservatives by harkening back to earlier generations of Republican leaders that favored environmental protection.
Ms. Matthews: Our planet is something that we share and that we should prioritize protecting. Roosevelt is considered the father of our national parks. And George H. W. Bush signed amendments to the Clean Air Act. There is a history of caring about the environment that’s not incompatible with conservative values.
Ethan: For more ideas on how to expand the coalition to support climate action, and for more climate solutions, visit our website at climatebreak.org. I’m Ethan Elkind, and this was Climate Break.