Address to the Kirkland Chamber of Commerce

By STATE REP. TOBY NIXON, a member of REP’s Washington Chapter Executive Committee

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Representative Nixon addressed the Kirkland, WA, Chamber of Congress on September 19, 2006.


I appreciate Bill and the Chamber staff putting together this great program for us today on “Green Living.” Some people might be surprised that a Republican would sponsor a luncheon on this topic, but those who know me wouldn’t be surprised at all. I’m one of those who is committed to returning to the days when protecting the environment was not a partisan issue.

Lately, it seems that Democrats have been most associated with environmentalism, but Republicans have a long history of conservation and environmental leadership, too. The national park system was created by a Republican president – Teddy Roosevelt. Another Republican president, Richard Nixon (no relation), signed into law the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, among others. The root word of “conservative” and “conservation” is the same. True conservatives take to heart the need to be wise stewards, to take care of the earth so that we can pass it down to our posterity.

A number of Republicans in the Washington State Legislature have been leaders on the environment. Several of us serve on the executive committee of the state chapter of Republicans for Environmental Protection. We’ve founded a group known as the Washington Environmental Roundtable to seek bipartisan consensus on solutions to environmental issues. Personally, I was one of the co-sponsors of the Hanford Cleanup Initiative, I-297, and have also endorsed this year’s Clean Energy Initiative, I-937. Many Republicans, including me, have been among the sponsors of recent major environmental legislation, including bills to:

  • Clean up Puget Sound.
  • Require state buildings to be constructed using high-performance green building standards.
  • Phase out the use of toxic flame retardants.
  • Provide for recycling of electronic products.
  • Protect against oil spills.
  • Invest in renewable energy and alternative fuel projects.
  • Remove mercury switches from scrap cars.
  • And many more.

You’ll notice that these measures align very much with the topics of our panel today.

All of us want to leave our planet to our children better and cleaner than we got it from our parents. We agree on that goal. Where we disagree, sometimes, is on the method – how to best accomplish the goal.

I believe that we need to protect the environment in a way that is consistent with the principles on which our nation was founded and that made it great – things like protection of individual rights including property rights, personal responsibility, limited government, and the free market. In fact, it is only by respecting property rights and the free market that we can protect the environment in a sustainable way, for the long term. Why is that? Because caring about the environment is a luxury that only a prosperous society can afford.

Think on the images you’ve seen of poor countries around the world. Do they look like places where protection of the environment is a high priority? Every waterway is an open sewer – but people get their drinking water there anyway. The land is stripped bare as people collect wood to burn or to make room to grow crops. The air is polluted with the burning of biomass fuel.

People who are living on a subsistence level, who spend every waking hour just trying to find their next meal, don’t have the time, energy, or resources to care about the environment!

If you look at the United States and other wealthy countries, you can see the benefit to the environment of having a robust economy. As a society, we have so much excess wealth that we pay for swarms of government agents to look after the environment for us. Millions of people use their free time and their money to enjoy the natural environment, to voluntarily work on projects to improve and preserve it, to be citizen activists demanding that it be protected, and to fund organizations to that end.

An economy that generates enough wealth to enable resources to be devoted to protecting the environment rather than just to survival needs five key things:

  • The rule of law
  • Protection of property rights
  • Low taxes and stable tax laws
  • Limited regulation and stable regulations
  • Free trade

Without these, those who invest to generate jobs and wealth will be unwilling to do so, because otherwise the risk is too high that their investment will be lost.

Business owners who are members of the Kirkland Chamber and other Chambers like it around the state understand the importance of these fundamental requirements. As you talk to your legislators about environmental protection, I hope you will also continue to talk to us about the importance of protecting our economy and enabling job creation.

We can have both a strong economy and a clean environment, if we work together on consensus, bipartisan solutions.