Tuesday, December 15, 2015

An Environmental Policy Primer for the Next President

By Diane Katz

The nation’s environment has dramatically improved in the four decades since adoption of America’s foundational environmental statutes.[1] It is also true that there could have been even greater improvement at far less cost—economic and social—had lawmakers forgone centralized government control in favor of the transformative powers of market incentives and private property rights.[2] But it is not too late for change. This primer presents alternatives to the regulatory status quo that would enhance the environment and economic growth, and preserve Americans’ freedoms.
Conventional wisdom has long held that government controls of industry are the best and only way to protect flora and fauna. We now know better. Forty years of command-and-control regimes have led to massive, ineffective, and unaccountable bureaucracies. And the bigger the federal government has grown, the more essential political influence has become, leading to corruption in the regulatory realm. All of this has weakened property rights, inhibited innovation, and increased the prices of food, fuel, fiber, and minerals.[3]
In many respects, the need for reform of environmental regulation has never been greater. The nation’s primary environmental statutes are woefully outdated, and do not reflect current conditions. The White House, Congress, and federal agencies routinely ignore regulatory costs, exaggerate benefits, and breach legislative and constitutional boundaries. They also increasingly dictate lifestyle choices instead of focusing on public health and safety.
Conservatives rarely shape the debate on environmental policy. Too often they focus solely on regulatory costs rather than on an alternative agenda. But green eyeshades simply cannot compete for public support against the seemingly selfless agenda of green activists. Americans care deeply about the environment and expect public officials to act. Therefore, conservatives must put forth their own platform for responsible stewardship and not merely oppose the green lobby’s agenda. As noted in an earlier Heritage study, “While the conservative critique is well known, the conservative agenda is not.”[4]
To that end, this primer recommends reforms based on conservative principles and fundamentals of good governance: Market incentives are more effective than government diktats; sound science fosters sound policy; and, most important, citizens are far better stewards of the environment than the government will ever be.

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