By Edward Flattau
The conservative Heritage Foundation is trumpeting the legacy of Ronald Reagan as the answer to what currently ails the nation. It is orchestrating this campaign by posing on its website the question: what would Reagan do in response to today’s problems. Some Right Wing radio talk show hosts have picked up on Heritage’s parlor diversion and waxed nostalgic over how President Reagan would set things straight if he were alive and in office today.
Well, let’s play the game as far as environmental issues are concerned, using Reagan’s record in the White House as our guide. Throughout the exercise, it is important to remember that Reagan considered the federal government more often than not to be part of the problem rather than the solution. In his view, regulation usually stifled business and should only be imposed to avert a highly visible public crisis.
That being the case, he would not be sympathetic to current congressional attempts to strengthen air pollution standards for power plants. Instead, he would likely voice his long held conviction that vegetation was a far worse polluter than human beings, and that in any event, market place competition would force industry to voluntarily comply with whatever factory emission reductions the nation required.
Regarding our national energy policy, Reagan would be a big booster for the expansion of nuclear power, characterizing as exaggerated any concerns about health hazards posed by disposal of radioactive waste. There would not be any big push for
clean, renewable energy. He considered the mass use of such “exotic” technologies to be a pipedream. Thus, he would likely reduce rather than increase federal subsidies to aid in their development and marketing. Government financial assistance for energy conservation would get short shrift, too. If renewables and conservation had any merit, in Reagan’s view, they could make it on their own. In his universe, the United States would meet its energy demands through increased reliance on fossil fuels, with no area—public or private—off limits to bull dozers and oil rigs. That means it would be a free-for-all even in such previously protected locations as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the waters immediately off our East and West coasts.
Forget about increasing automobile fuel economy standards. Reagan would argue that the cost of retooling vehicle engines would put Detroit at a competitive disadvantage to foreign car makers.
He would be adamant about expanding timber cutting in our national forests, including ecologically invaluable old growth trees. Setting aside tracts as wilderness completely off limits to resource extraction would be a waste of productivity in his view. Reagan would oppose letting nature take its course in the forest because dead trees were “pure waste and harmful to the ecology.” [He never did grasp that dead and rotting trees return nutrients to the soil, thereby serving as a vital instrument of regeneration.]
Reagan would emasculate the Endangered Species Act because he considered it an impediment to development. He also regarded the law as largely an absurdity, especially when employed to save such living organisms as “fish, weeds, and spiders”.
Despite the nation’s growing population, there would be a moratorium on the expansion of the national park system in deference to privatization. To halt whatever environmental degradation was occurring on federal lands, Reagan would advocate transferring the tracts to private control (on the theory that the for-profit sector could do a better management job than dedicated public servants.)
Finally, Reagan would empathize with President George W. Bush’s diplomatic unilateral approach and sluggish response to global warming, positions that have infuriated friends and foes alike. Come to think of it, the Reagan years were Bush’s source of inspiration for this much disparaged foreign policy in the first place.
@Copyright 2008, Edward Flattau