The GOP's Environmental Disaster

The forgotten legacy of Russell Train.

By the time he died last month, Russell Train was largely forgotten. Most Americans didn't know that, as The New York Times' obituary said, he helped shape "the world's first comprehensive program for scrubbing the skies and waters of pollution, ensuring the survival of ecologically significant plants and animals, and safeguarding citizens from exposure to toxic chemicals."

Here's the really surprising part: Train was a Republican. He served as the first chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality under one Republican president, Richard Nixon, and as the second head of the Environmental Protection Agency under another, Gerald Ford. After that, he ran the U.S. affiliate of the World Wildlife Fund.

Back then, believe it or not, there was no conflict between being a Republican (or a conservative) and favoring environmental protection. Nixon signed the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972, two of the most vital anti-pollution measures ever, as well as the Endangered Species Act, which aimed at preventing the extinction of birds, animals and other living things.

"Clean air, clean water, open spaces—these should once again be the birthright of every American," Nixon said unabashedly.

But today, "Republican environmentalist" is an oxymoron. During his presidential campaign, Newt Gingrich called for abolishing the EPA. Rick Santorum decried a "reign of environmental terror." Michele Bachmann vowed that in her administration, "the EPA will have doors locked and lights turned off."

The 2012 party platform says federal agencies should "properly and correctly apply environmental laws and regulations, always in support of economic development, job creation, and American prosperity and leadership"—not, you will notice, safeguarding human health or protecting the planet.

In his convention speech, Mitt Romney got in line with GOP dogma. "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet," he noted with a look of disbelief, evoking jeers and laughter. "My promise"—long pause—"is to help you and your family." You and your family, after all, have nothing to gain from environmental protections.

This radical shift has come about only in recent years, precipitated in part by climate change. Faced with the specter of a planet heating up from the burning of fossil fuels, conservatives have taken refuge in obstinate denial. Their eagerness to latch onto any sliver of evidence casting doubt on the phenomenon makes it plain: Nothing can change their minds.

They no longer see the environment as a realm in which Republicans can and should offer tightly focused, science-based solutions that balance vital interests such as human health and economic growth. They see it as an arena where the only option is to dismantle regulations.

It was not always that way. President George H.W. Bush, who promised to be "the environmental president," supported a revision of the Clean Air Act to reduce air pollution, curb acid rain, and protect the ozone layer.

In 2008, John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade system to combat global warming, warning that "time is short and the dangers are great." Today, no candidate taking that position could possibly be nominated.

William Reilly, who ran the EPA under the first President Bush, sounded despairing notes when I called him to ask about the shift in his party. As co-chair of the commission that investigated the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, he got no support from House Republicans when he testified on the need for better regulation of offshore drilling. "The level of vitriol was such that I was surprised," Reilly said.

The public might not be. Environmental concerns are not the reason Romney is trailing in the polls, but they're not helping. A recent The Economist/YouGov poll found that on this issue, independent voters trust President Barack Obama over his challenger by a whopping margin of 49 percent to 19 percent.

Republicans once performed the valuable task of insisting that alleged environmental harms be proved, not merely assumed, and that solutions be market-friendly, carefully tailored and cost-effective. The give-and-take between them and Democrats yielded better remedies.

Today, they have only one response to any environmental concerns, which resembles what Mark Twain said about a cat that sits on a hot stove lid: "She will never sit down on a hot lid again—and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore."

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  • Randian||

    Jesus Christ get rid of Chapman already. This is tragic.

    The 2012 party platform says federal agencies should "properly and correctly apply environmental laws and regulations, always in support of economic development, job creation, and American prosperity and leadership"—not, you will notice, safeguarding human health or protecting the planet.

    Who are you 'protecting the planet' for? Is the 'planet' to be 'protected' for its own sake? Why?

    Back then, believe it or not, there was no conflict between being a Republican (or a conservative) and favoring environmental protection. Nixon signed the Clean Air Act of 1970

    Nixon also implemented price freezes and wage controls. Oh yeah, and he also resigned in disgrace...so this is the example Chapman wants a major political party to emulate?

    Faced with the specter of a planet heating up from the burning of fossil fuels, conservatives have taken refuge in obstinate denial.

    It is possible to believe that there is such a thing as anthropogenic global warming (oops, I mean 'climate change', the convenient sleight-of-hand engaged in by the scientifically illiterate) while simultaneously believing there is nothing valuable government can do about it.

  • mr simple||

    I'm surprised anyone still reads his articles.

  • Cytotoxic||

    I was going to write something here but Randian did everything better. It doesn't even occur to Chapman that the environmental 'issues' of today are of a different urgency and nature ie validity compared to yesteryear and that it warrants a different government response ie no response.

  • Killazontherun||

    Wow. Chapman is actually doing the fear mongering, Apocalypse pushing environ-religion thing.

    Good job, Randian.

    Chapman is the phoniest phoney who ever left phoney town.

  • entropy||

    I was really shocked the other day, I read his article on School Choice and I didn't vehemently disagree with it. I was worried.

    Good to see he's back in form. For a moment there I thought one of us might have had a brain tumor.

  • ||

    IT'S NOT A TUMAH!

  • ||

    Testify! Brother

  • o3||

    a gop party cruise thru the ice-free NW passage could provide many funs like great white sharks off alaska und polar bear rodeos on jetskis!

  • OldMexican||

    I think Orrin is having a seizure...

  • ||

    Don't discourage him, he's on a roll! Sooooo, polar bear jetski rodeos, what else...

  • o3||

    und

  • kinnath||

    I was a boy scout growing up. I still consider myself a fairly hardcore conservationist/environmentalist. But the hype over global-warming/climate-change is pure bullshit.

  • pixelfuture@gmail.com||

    so you've done an adequate amount of research to prove your 'bullshit' conclusion?

  • Killazontherun||

    Here's the really surprising part: Train was a Republican.

    No one here is surprised about that, Chapman. Maybe you should be writing or reading this to the people Howard Stern has his people interviewed on the street.

  • dj kumquat||

    yes! i'll give chapman the benefit of the doubt: for instance, most mainstream americans think democrats have always been the party of civil rights and that republicans have a long racist history. i think the comment was directed at clueless friends and family who might get this article emailed to them by informed reason readers.

  • jili5||

    There would be nothing wrong with dismantling regulations (and we need to do that), but in order to do so we need the courts to uphold property rights. If we dismantle regulations then the coal plant next door starts dumping even more heavy metals on my land then I better be able to prosecute them. But if we dismantle regulations and still allow corporations to dump trash on our property (as we do now, only the EPA decides how much trash they can dump) then that's not freedom. We need property rights.

  • tarran||

    ^^^^^^ THIS !!!!!111!!!!

  • entropy||

    What?!? I would like a cite on this.

    Where are evil corporashuns dumping toxic waste on private property they don't own, and the owners have no legal recourse?

  • pixelfuture@gmail.com||

    So you would rather waste your own time and money, fighting a coal company that will most likely defeat you in court? What about people that don't have time or money?

  • Redmanfms||

    Erin Brokovich or Jan Schlichtmann will swoop in to save the day.

    But no, that's not good enough, because we've seen what local/state/federal government types have done with the pollution zones they manage and the disastrous Superfund, haven't we????

    Jesus, you progs and your fucking false dichotomies.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Can I ask an honest quesiton? Why does Reason feature Chapman? I mean, the guy is a centrist liberal. Period. It would be like bringing on Jonah Goldberg as a regular feature and pretending that he's a libertarian rather than a conservative.

  • ||

    You're right. It's time to trade up. Who do you have in mind?

  • Marshall Gill||

    Thomas Sowell? Walter Williams?

  • OldMexican||

    Back then, believe it or not, there was no conflict between being a Republican (or a conservative) and favoring environmental protection.


    Nixon was a Progressive, Steve.

    Nixon signed the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972, two of the most vital anti-pollution measures ever,


    Which ensured that a dangerous bureaucracy would be leaving a trail of tears for years to come after bullying and driving people towards insolvency. It also gave a new face to the term "Law Of Diminishing Returns" after billions were spent to create a regulatory monster that only provides meager environmental returns while destroying businesses and creating new cronies.

    as well as the Endangered Species Act, which aimed at preventing the extinction of birds, animals and other living things.


    "Save the amoeba!"

    You can't prevent the extinction of living things, Steve, which makes this statement odd and wooly.

  • ||

    Well you can prevent their extinction. The question is why should you?

  • Proprietist||

    While Chapman's a bonehead and his statist solutions are totally wrong, he's right in the sense that the Right has become reflexively anti-environmentalist. There are some logical reasons for this, including environmentalism becoming the last refuge for post-Cold War socialists, an area where there views can receive widespread popular support.

    Environmentalists want to pre-empt potential future property damages by controlling any and all potentially harmful actions and chemicals, just like neoconservatives want to pre-empt any potential future attacks by attacking any potentially harmful or threatening foreign regimes, or drug warriors want to pre-empt any potential future small-children-face-eatings by hunting down all providers of potentially harmful substances. They all engage in different forms of the same logical error, and the consequences are huge and negative.

    But pollution and environmental justice are, at their core, property rights issues that fall within the logical scope of government. We can't fail to coherently enforce property rights simply because many environmentalists are statist and support overregulation and the economic constriction that results.

  • Proprietist||

    there = their

  • ||

    Also, libertarians have become reflexively anti-environmentalist. Hence you have non-climatologists and non-physicists critiquing scientific findings because they've confused them with policy suggestions.

    I don't claim climate change is a hoax just because some douche wants environmental regulations. But alot of libertarians do.

  • FD||

    I don't think it's a hoax either. In my neck of the woods we see it daily -- we call it the weather.
    Now as for Chapman's disorganized, politicized claptrap here, what exactly is it, Steve, that you want me to pay for and refrain from doing? I mean specifically. And while you're trying to sort that out without finding solace in your sad, political party pandering, how about lecturing the biggest polluter on the face of Mother Earth. Take a walk to the DoD and have a talking-to with the Joint Chiefs. Odd that the EPA hasn't affected them much. Must be that whole agency communication silo thing.

  • Proprietist||

    Hence you have non-climatologists and non-physicists critiquing scientific findings because they've confused them with policy suggestions.

    I don't claim to know better than scientists or climatologists and I don't claim climate change is a fake conspiracy, but I can be cautious about accepting their premises and solutions unquestioningly when their objectivity is likely compromised by the need for future grant money and donations. Alarmism becomes more likely when that is what it takes to get their research prioritized.

    That's why it's important to listen to many different sources and try to discern where they are speaking plainly and honestly vs. where they are speaking out of self-interest or the interests of their funders.

  • ||

    I'm not saying we should accept them or reject them. I'm saying we can't judge them at all since we don't know the science.

    The same goes for questions of objectivity. Libertarians are only questioning these scientists' objectivity because of the politics of the issue. Every scientist is looking for grant money, but libertarians aren't questioning all scientists' objectivity.

  • entropy||

    Nonsense. MASSIVE argument-to-authority. We can't judge them? None of us no what we're talking about?

    What about the damn scientists and climatologists who disagree with AGW?

    And why don't you apply that thinking to everything? Hey, how can you judge immigration policy when you've never been a border agent or an immigrant?

  • Homple||

    So, since I have no degree in theology, I should believe what Father Sheeny tells me about the Virgin Birth and Holy Eucharest, eh?

  • entropy||

    Only if a broad consensus of catholic theologians agree with him, maybe.

  • Jackand Ace||

    So explain exactly how this conspiracy to produce findings supporting climate change works? Who is looking for particular results, and then paying off only those scientists who support those results? Al Gore?

    Must be the government. So then explain how more and more studies during the Bush years, 5 of which Republicans controlled both the House and Senate, further bolstered the idea that man is causing climate change, and the problem is only becoming worse? If what you say is true, all those studies would have shown the opposite because the Republicans controlled the purse strings. Maybe its George Soros.

    Everything is always a conspiracy.

  • entropy||

    Enviroweenism is a multi-billion dollar industry.

    Hey why don't you read the Climategate emails and you'll see. It's not some imaginary conspiracy.

  • Jackand Ace||

    Great. And the fossil fuel industry gets almost a trillion in subsidies each year...and that is just subsidies. So which is bigger and has more money? The fossil fuel industry doesn't invest in studies?

    So go ahead, show me the climate gate email detailing out this conspiracy. You don't have it...it does not exist.

    Every single major scientific organization in the world says climate change is real, and that man plays a major role in it. Find me one that doesn't.

  • entropy||

    Fossil fuels should not get any subsidies, but the fact is they get LESS than wind, solar, and fairy dust.

    You really think it comes down to whichever side has more money or is bigger? That's nonsense.

    As for climate gate, I will go ahead and give you 1 free google on my own time since you're so lazy.

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/8uubkmc

    Every major science organization in the world does not even weight in on climate, let alone agree with it. Consensus is not science for good reason - it's often wrong.

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/l73q7m

    And I could find a LOT more. Consensus isn't science even when there is consensus, but pushing a phony consensus that doesn't even exist is lame.

    Although it's easy to see why climate scientists naturally gravitate toward global warming theories, it makes them most important experts in the world and makes politicians listen to them.

  • entropy||

    The first link should have been this:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/201.....s-revoked/

  • Jackand Ace||

    C'mon, etropy. There is not one thing in that article showing a conspiracy of funding as highlighted in the emails.

    And you should know that since climate change is a worldwide problem, in the WORLD fossil fuels get as much as 12 times more in subsidies than renewables.

    And did you even read the second link you sent me to? The article is about the ties to the fossil fuel industry INDIVIDUAL skeptics have. Not scientific organizations.

    Here are just a few that say climate change is real and we should do something about it: National Academy of Sciences, Royal Society, American Geophysical Union, Geological Society of America, American Meteorological Society, American Physical Society, American Chemical Society. And on and on and on. Find me one that says the opposite.

  • entropy||

    Are you incapable of looking yourself?

    Are you going to pay me to look for you?

  • entropy||

    One more freebie, since it gets to the heart of how this conspiracy is conspired.

    http://voices.yahoo.com/wolfga.....69275.html

    There's lots lots more, if you're even remotely open minded enough on the issue to look.

  • Jackand Ace||

    Again, just an individual who disagrees. So again, who is funding this conspiracy, where does the money come from, and how were they able to buy off all of the great scientific organizations in the world?

  • entropy||

    Just an individual who disagrees?

    Just an individual who got FIRED for disagreeing.

    And the link above shows people going after the guy's PhD credential for disagreeing.

    You're the one making up crap about buying the world.

  • Redmanfms||

    Governments.

    Having been in the field of scientific research for a few years (though as an engineering student and grad student), nothing gets funding faster than finding a way to tie in any study with "global climate change" no matter how completely unconnected they are.

    That you bring up geologists is just a narrow example. They of all people should know that the idea that humans burning dinosaurs has absolutely fucking nothing to do with climate trends. Every mass extinction generating climate shift has been predicated by things like massive impact events and mass volcanism spread over hundreds of thousands of years (think an area the size of COTUS spewing lava for 1,000,000 years). All the Jane Middleclass's of the world driving their kiddies to soccer practice in Ferd F-teenthousands and keeping their thermostats on 70 year round are a figurative fart in the wind compared to the aforementioned events.

  • Marshall Gill||

    That's why it's important to listen to many different sources and try to discern where they are speaking plainly and honestly vs. where they are speaking out of self-interest or the interests of their funders.

    You are kidding, right? EVERYONE acts in self-interest. Your failure to understand or appreciate this explains your emotive leftist leanings.

  • ||

    Sometimes acting in self interest has implications for your conclusions. Recognizing that fact is why the scientific method of repeatable, falsifiable experiments was invented - to mitigate the possibility of self interest tainting results. That's why a lot of scientists don't, say, accidentally delete the source code for the models they use to predict global catastrophes or, say, use their positions on boards of directors for science journals to reject studies that contradict their viewpoints, etc. There's nothing left wing or emotive about recognizing that self-interest can taint the motivations and conclusions of scientists and looking at their methods and standards with scrutiny to determine if that's the case.

  • entropy||

    Neither do I.

    I claim climate change is a hoax because it's a hoax. That's got nothing to do with the proposed remedies.

    Also, nice credentialism/argument to authority thing you've got there.

  • Loki||

    The give-and-take between them and Democrats yielded better remedies.

    *citation needed.

    Also, maybe the GOP's complete rejection of global warming has more to do with the left's politicization of the "science" as an excuse to ram through quasi-socialist horseshit than "obstinate denial". Just a thought.

  • Oso Politico||

    One can be pro-environment and still reject the warmistas visions of gloom and doom. It has yet to be shown that man-made CO2 causes global warming. More CO2 might even be good, certainly for plants. Computer models prove nothing. Chapman would probably be more comfortable writing for Grist or Mother Jones.

  • Brandybuck||

    Back then we were all conservationists. It was a pragmatic idea. We turned off our lights because it saved money. We cleaned up our streets because trash is ugly. We curbed out pollution because smog stinks.

    Now we have environmentalism. It's a religious idea. The goal isn't to conserve resources, or breath clean air and drink clean water. The goal is to appease Mother Gaia so you can get into heaven.

  • Jackand Ace||

    Turn them off today, it will still save you money. Keep on cleaning, trash is still ugly. And smog still stinks.

    Your point is that we should not do these things because of an imaginary religion you have created?

  • ||

    His point was that doing those things was voluntary and unintrusive. Unlike having armed EPA agents shut down your work site and hold you in legal limbo without charging you with a crime, but imposing thousands-of-dollars-per-day fines for disturbing a supposed "wetland" in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, for example.

  • RightNut||

    Chapman wonders why their is such vitriol directed at the EPA? Has he seen any of the damning headlines related to EPA actions in the last few years? Several of those stories were even FEATURED here on reason. Just a quick list from googling "EPA Reason"...most of these are from the last year. How hard would it have been for Chapman to do a little research instead of berating the right for not humping the dirt everyday?

    http://reason.com/blog/2012/03.....battle-aga

    http://reason.com/archives/201.....l-in-the-e

  • Lehosh||

    A recent The Economist/YouGov poll found that on this issue, independent voters trust President Barack Obama over his challenger by a whopping margin of 49 percent to 19 percent.

    They trust Obama 49% to handle an issue they give 3% of a shit about.

    Yay?

  • seguin||

    My problems with the EPA have about as much to do with the actual state of the environment as Steve Chapman has to do with libertarianism.

    Right now, most of the actions of the EPA that I have seen have been bureaucratic power trips with a thin veneer of do-goodism brushed on top.

    TL;DR SCREW THE EPA THEY MADE MY FAVORITE JUNKYARD SHUT DOWN OVER B@#$@#$#$@!

  • triclops||

    I don't think we need to resort to much of conspiracy when plain old incentives, like funding and attention, can explain much.

    I think the evidence for overall Earth climate warming is pretty strong and diverse.

    I think the evidence that it is anthropogenic is much weaker, but has some merit. (But, as a corollary, I don't understand why that matters at all, unless you have some Gaia justice perspective.)

    I think the evidence that the proposed govt solutions will do anything but retard the standards of living for billions is infinitesimal.

  • The Derider||

    Guys, please take over the Republican party so Democrats can have a permanent supermajority.

  • Redmanfms||

    Just be honest, you want us to give up because you want to use the same appeals to sympathy, authority, ridicule and false dichotomy fallacies you progs have been using since the beginning of the 20th Century to make everyone more equal, just wrapped in the environmental wrapper because your "it's for the babies" riff doesn't have the traction it used to without the inclusion of apocalyptic threats. And the whole reason the "it's for the babies" riff doesn't work now? We didn't give up exposing it as bullshit in decades past.

  • ||

    I will happily take reflexive anti-statism to reflexive statism, regardless of whether the issue is the environment, taxes, health care, food safety, or anything else.

    Fuck off slaver.

  • Ann Banisher||

    Just because a Republican signed the EPA into law does not mean that this was the intent of the law. Like so many other laws, it has obviously been hijacked by the left wing politicians Trial liars lobby to create a Frankenstein to serve their political purpose.
    Was the logical intent of the Civil Rights Act to allow for cases like Pigford, or the DOJ suing because of unfair racial discipline problems in school? No, but that's what Dems and lawyers have turned it into....a cottage industry.

  • pixelfuture@gmail.com||

    Follow the money. It's really not that hard to connect the dots. As soon as environmental protections started eating into the profits of the energy sector, money started pouring into politicians coffers. These politicians were typically in states where natural resources were plentiful, and many of those states are red states.

  • G-Wrath||

    I have a long message outlining why pumping CO2 is bad, from an ocean-acidification standpoint (but it is too long for this comment system I guess). Look it up if you want the real reason why we shouldn't burn as many fossil-fuels.

    I'm sympathetic to the ideas of the magazine and the commenters, but please have more than a rudimentary understanding of the consequences of pollution before you pontificate about the "ramifications" of stopping it. Every time I think that libertarians might be on the right track about certain things, I make mistakes like reading comments made by people who don't even understand first principles. Seriously, how can libertarian-leaning liberals trust that you come from an intellectually honest place if you won't even engage in critical thinking, FFS.

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