GOP Had a History of Conservation. Until Trump.

From Theodore Roosevelt’s founding of the U.S. Forest Service in 1905, to President H. W. Bush’s strengthening of the Clean Air Act in 1990, the Republican party has long advocated for a healthy, clean and sustainable environment. Republican president Richard Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 to create an agency to oversee public health and the environment, so that the standards and goals to ensure that environmental regulation and policy would be sustained.

Unfortunately, in the last four years, the mission and purpose upon which the EPA was founded has been undermined and corrupted by the current administration — an administration which has repeatedly failed to see the positive relationship between conservation and capital, like so many Republican leaders and CEO’s have supported in the past.

The Harvard Environmental and Energy Law Program estimates that the current administration intends on rolling back over 100 EPA regulations, of which 68 are complete and 32 are still in progress. The Administration has argued that eliminating these measures are “pro-business” approaches to environmental regulation, even though most large company CEO’s support retaining them — including the major oil companies.

While it is true that the government has overregulated in many areas, especially in the workplace, wages and hours, etc., regulation is critical as it relates to our shared environment. The government must set the bar high and make the less scrupulous companies rise to meet a higher standard, as called for by the larger companies.

The Administration’s rush to deregulation will create long-term challenges for the American environment and undermine progress made over the last 32 years. Pushing for the elimination of regulations of methane and mercury emissions, supporting mining in pristine areas like the Pebble Mine, opening up ANWR for drilling and relaxing the well control regulations on offshore drilling create big environmental risks we should not take.

The conversation is no longer about groups proposing “green” ideologies and pro-conservation beliefs. There is near unanimous support among CEOs of large oil and gas companies and other industrial and service companies, as well as the American Enterprise Institute and the Alliance for Market Solutions, which includes many past members of the Council of Economic Advisors and Secretaries of State, and many others on both ends of the political spectrum, all in favor of a carbon tax. Despite the support for such a tax, which would reduce carbon emissions significantly while financially benefitting American families, both Congress and the Administration have not been open to support. The carbon tax is free enterprise — the market sets the price of carbon, rather than a bureaucratic cap and trade regime or other top down solutions. Let the market decide.

In December of 2018, the EPA announced changes to eviscerate regulations on the release of mercury and toxic materials from oil and coal-fired power plants — apparently to save large coal companies money. Last April, I wrote a letter to the EPA arguing against this decision because it undermined the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule, jeopardizing those most vulnerable; like pregnant women, children and infants. In April of this year, unfortunately this rollback proposal became a reality.

In August of last year, the administration proposed reversing the “well control” regulations enacted after the Deep Water Horizon spill, which required oil and gas companies to install better technologies to inspect and repair drilling operations and to have back up blowout preventers on offshore wells. As the chairman of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus at the time, I spoke against this change, stating that this decision was special interest-based and a clear example of this administration’s lack of a science-backed, pro-environment policy. In August of this year, this rollback proposal became an environmentally detrimental reality.

The Pebble Mine project in Alaska has been rejected for nearly two decades because of the extensive damage the mine would cause to the salmon fishery in Bristol Bay. Unfortunately, allowing exploitation of the mine has been a priority of the agenda of the administration. They have taken an aggressive stance in favor of the mine’s construction, despite a U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) study which shows that the mine would damage 160 kilometers of habitat and 18 square kilometers of streams and wetlands. Many scientists and conservationists have spoken out firmly against this project, yet the administration continues to disregard red-flag statistics and consequences this mine would create and continues to push for its approval.

In September, the EPA released a set of new guidelines easing restrictions on “coal ash” — a mixture which can contain mercury, lead, arsenic, and many other toxic pollutants. Many of these pollutants are discarded into waterways, eventually reaching ground water. Why ease these rules and put more pollutants into the water? Why make it easier for the coal producers whose “cleanest” product is 6 to 7 times more carbon centric and polluting than natural gas?

One of my main priorities in Congress has been ensuring that offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico continues to be banned. I introduced H.R. 205, the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act, in 2019. The bill made the moratorium on drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico (EGOM), east of the Military Mission Line, which expires in 2022, permanent — a critical leap for Florida’s environment and economy. It passed the House on September 11, 2019, by a large and bipartisan margin — 248-180. The Florida delegation was nearly unanimous. Unfortunately, the Senate has not acted on HR 205.

Floridians have long supported a ban on offshore drilling — obvious when 69% of Floridians voted for Amendment 9, a Constitutional amendment banning offshore drilling, in 2018. On June 15 of this year, 17 of my Florida colleagues and I sent a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt urging him to protect the coasts of Florida from dangerous oil and gas development — a continued effort to make the Administration aware of Florida’s strong desire to prevent offshore drilling.

On September 8, President Trump issued an executive order extending the existing moratorium on offshore drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico ten years, until June 30, 2032. This is a great, helpful decision, but the administration should use its influence to push the Senate to convert this executive order into formal legislation like H.R. 205, so that it cannot be easily reversed by a future administration.

It is essential, perhaps existential, that climate change, sea level rise and threats to our environment remain fundamental government priorities and that we oppose any backsliding or relaxation of regulations. 

Congressman Francis Rooney (@RepRooney) represents Florida’s 19th Congressional District in the House of Representatives. He served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005-2008.

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