Republicans should embrace environmentalism

America has come to a consensus. The American people want to protect the environment.

Unfortunately, there’s a mindset today in America: If you care about the environment, you’re probably not a conservative.
My advice? Republicans should head for the hills. Literally. Climb a mountain, go on an adventure, join the millions of Americans who enjoy the outdoors and want to take care of it.

Too many Republicans have forgotten that conservation is conservative. Many are now realizing there’s a lesson to learn and a legacy to be passed on to our children and grandchildren, not just on family values and taxes, but also on the environment.

In truth, the modern environmental movement was founded by a Republican, President Teddy Roosevelt, who set the tone over a century ago when he said: “In utilizing and conserving the natural resources of the nation, the one characteristic more essential than any other is foresight. … The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life.”

The echoes of Teddy Roosevelt’s green conservative movement can be heard in my state’s Grand Old Party. Gov. (and Sen.) Dan Evans dissuaded President Ford from vetoing the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Act, and he led the way to a new environmental consciousness in Washington State. Bill Ruckelshaus created the nation’s Environmental Protection Agency, and in retirement is heading the effort to protect our salmon. Sen. Slade Gorton shepherded CAFE standards through the Senate, fought to protect Puget Sound from oil spills, and secured critical funding for the Mountains to Sound Greenway. My predecessor, the late congresswoman Jennifer Dunn, pushed to expand Mount Rainier National Park and voted repeatedly against drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

These are just some of the “green giants” of my party. I feel the echoes of their commitment everywhere I go. We live today with the benefits of their leadership.

I’m working to magnify their echoes into a call for a return to national GOP leadership on the environment. Like them, I will work across party lines to achieve shared goals. I have already begun.

I signed onto Rep. Rick Larsen’s (D-Wash.) Wild Sky Wilderness bill, and will soon introduce legislation to expand one of America’s most-visited wilderness areas, Alpine Lakes. 

I cosponsored the Centennial Parks Act, allowing every American to contribute to our national parks simply by checking a box on their tax returns. If you want to take a first step toward being green, there is no better place than in our already world-class National Park System.

I have worked with my colleague, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) on legislation that would have a significant impact on the development of plug-in hybrid technology to greatly reduce our fuel consumption.

I have followed in congresswoman Dunn’s footsteps by voting against drilling in ANWR, Sen. Gordon’s footsteps by introducing my own CAFE standards legislation, and working with Inslee and Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) to once again keep oil tankers out of Elliott Bay.

For my Republican friends who fear economic repercussions, let me assure you, good environmental policy can also mean sound economic policy. The outdoor recreation industry alone contributes $730 billion to the U.S. economy every year. As new environmental challenges arise, we can meet them by respecting both the environment and the economic realities central to our party’s beliefs.

For example, I support the Climate Stewardship Act, which addresses climate change with conservative, market-driven incentives: with a cap and trade system to reduce CO2 emissions. CSA is a response to growing momentum for effective reductions and includes a “declining cap” provision that cuts emissions steadily over time, managing costs while effectively reducing pollution. CSA starts by reducing emissions below current levels within the next five years and has a strong long-term target of reducing global warming pollution by 75 percent by mid-century, with interim goals to ensure progress.

My final and most important message for Republicans: For too long our party has rejected environmentalism. As the country has continually grown to expect its leaders to protect the environment, we have made ourselves absent from the debate. With all due respect to the other party, it is not healthy for our country to only have one set of solutions to our environmental problems. Without acknowledging that those problems exist, Republicans exempt themselves from being able to provide conservative and market-driven solutions.

Republicans can stick to our roots and once again lead the way on the environment. An honorable few have paved the way, and we can follow in their footsteps.

Reichert is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.


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