A Speech for the Next GOP Nominee for President

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: This was the lead article in the fall 1999 issue of REP’s The Green Elephant newsletter.


Good evening. It is a privilege to be here tonight, as our party’s nominee for the highest office in the most beautiful country on the face of the Earth.

This is the first year of the next American century. The choices we make this year will influence the kind of country our children and grandchildren will inherit in the years to come. We live in exciting times, and America continues to set the pace. Astonishing technology and our innate, can-do ethic are creating a new economy and new opportunities for all Americans.

I tell you these things in the year 2000. Yet a hundred years ago, Theodore Roosevelt, one of our greatest presidents, could have delivered much the same speech. In Roosevelt’s time, as in our time, America was striding into a new century of both promise and peril.

Roosevelt was a great leader in many ways, but perhaps the most unforgettable dimension of his leadership was the foresight he showed in conserving America’s natural resources. The parks, forests and wildlife refuges he set aside are an enduring legacy of responsible stewardship.

Conservation was an area T. R. had a strong personal interest in. He was a skilled big-game hunter and an accomplished writer on natural history. His books on the West’s wild spaces and on American wildlife still make interesting reading.

But his focus on conservation was much more than a personal interest. T. R. knew that responsible stewardship of our natural resources is key to maintaining America’s strength and greatness, both today and in the future. He realized that our natural heritage is a unique part of our common inheritance—just like the Declaration of Independence, the Statue of Liberty, and the battlefields of the Revolution.

As T. R. put it so eloquently, “Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of ensuring the safety and continuance of the nation.” Theodore Roosevelt knew that conservation was a conservative thing to do— and he acted accordingly by creating a Republican conservation heritage. As president, I intend to remember that heritage and act on it.

Today, as in T. R.’s day, we face important conservation issues. Over the last thirty years, we have made a lot of progress in the environmental arena. Thanks to strong leadership by both Republicans and Democrats, our air and water are cleaner. We’ve made some progress using energy and other resources more efficiently. We’ve set aside more special places for our children and grandchildren to enjoy. Bald eagles and peregrine falcons are soaring again over our forests, valleys and mountains.

But more remains to be done. The air in our cities is still not as healthy as it should be. Too many rivers, lakes and estuaries are still polluted. Too many of the wild creatures that make up our American heritage are in danger of extinction. Too many of our natural resources are being depleted, often through wasteful subsidies and other unwise government actions. And the scientists who study our climate are producing compelling evidence that global warming warrants our thoughtful attention.

Now, some would say that taking good care of our environment will harm the economy. I disagree.

Taking care of the environment and keeping America prosperous are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin. If you want statistics, I could point you to numerous studies which document the fact that states with strong environmental protection policies have the strongest economies. That’s not a coincidence. Rural communities located near wilderness areas do better economically than those that aren’t. That is one reason why our nation’s system of protected wild places should be expanded.

But my conviction is based on more than interesting statistics. It’s based on my belief in you, my fellow citizens. When we Americans are faced with a challenge, we don’t stand around wringing our hands and feeling sorry for ourselves. We don’t stand frozen like deer in the headlights. We face the task at hand. We build a team. We figure out what to do, and then we roll up our sleeves and get the job done. Surely, a nation that dug the Panama Canal, put men on the moon, and faced down the worst tyrannies that ever menaced a free people can figure out what to do about a little extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

I do not mean to make light of the environmental challenges before us. As our population has grown, the pressures on our air, water and other resources have increased. Just as importantly, the nature of the environmental problems facing us has changed. We’ve gotten pretty good at controlling pollution from big, easy-to-identify sources like smoke-stacks. We still have a ways to go, especially in regard to old, dirty power plants, but now we face other complex issues that urgently need our attention.

As our economy has changed and our cities have spread out, we face many challenges. Loss of open space. Urban sprawl. Increasing traffic congestion. Persistent chemicals that may interfere with vital functions of the human body. Diffuse sources of pollution that are difficult to get a handle on, like urban runoff. It’s time for some out-of-the-box thinking to address these challenges. We need to build on what we’ve accomplished so far, but we can’t be like generals fighting the last war.

Tools that we have been relying on to protect the environment need to be updated and redirected. We need a healthy debate about that, but let me be clear. I am not interested in rolling back the strong environmental standards that the American people want and deserve. Legislation that attempts to do so, either directly or via “riders” attached to appropriations bills, will not get past my desk. But neither am I interested in relying on inflexible, bureaucratic approaches that aren’t well equipped to deal with the environmental issues facing us today and in the next century.

What I am interested in is exploring new, more effective ways of meeting those standards. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a strong economy goes hand in hand with a clean environment. Smart, proactive businesses know that cutting out waste in production and product design is not only good for business, but good for the environment. Such innovations attack the inefficiencies that not only waste money but are the root causes of pollution. Smart, proactive businesses don’t look at environmental protection standards as a burden. They look at them as opportunities to become better businesses.

By implementing an environmental protection system that encourages innovation and rewards performance, pollution not only will be reduced but prevented in the first place. Resources will be used more efficiently. Businesses will run clean operations and make more money for their owners, employees and communities.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Ten years ago, President Bush signed into law a new, updated version of the Clean Air Act. To control acid rain, we decided to try something new. Instead of simply making rules and telling businesses exactly how to comply with them, we put in place a system called emissions trading. In other words, we created a market for cleaner power plants. More importantly, we encouraged innovation. We told certain power plants how much pollution they could emit, but we let them figure out how to comply. If they break the cap, they get fined. But if they cut pollution below the cap, they accumulate credits that can be sold for whatever the market will bear.

The result: sulfur dioxide emissions have fallen a third below allowed levels. The power plants covered by these requirements switched to cleaner fuels. The cost of regulation was cut by $2 billion. By setting a strong standard but letting power plants figure out how to meet it, the power plants got a business opportunity. The government got results with less bureaucratic red tape. The public got cleaner air at lower cost.

These are the types of innovative approaches we should test, perfect and implement, for preventing pollution, protecting open space, and restoring endangered species. Emissions trading is working because the standards are clear and because enforcement is strong, consistent and fair. It works because we encouraged innovation instead of stifling it, and because we paid attention to the science and made our best judgment.

The latter point is especially important. Too often, sound environmental science is distorted, denied or even ignored to serve political agendas. This has especially been the case with global warming. This is a disservice to the public and, if I may be so blunt, dumb to boot. Let me offer you an enlightening quote from John Browne, the CEO of BP Amoco, one of the world’s largest energy companies:

“The time to consider the policy dimensions of climate change is not when the link between greenhouse gases and climate change is conclusively proven… but when the possibility cannot be discounted and is taken seriously by the society of which we are part.”

BP Amoco has backed up its forward- looking words with deeds, by announcing plans to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions through greater efficiency and by investing in solar energy. Instead of being paralyzed by denial, BP Amoco is, to use an old expression, taking the bull by the horns.

Why is BP Amoco taking this step? Because it’s smart business, that’s why. Let me offer you another quote from John Browne:

“The more we thought about this, the more we found that we could improve our environmental performance… and actually get higher financial returns.”

I would ask our nation’s political leaders to consider this perspective as we debate our response to global warming and other environmental challenges. I return to a point I made earlier. We Americans can rise to any challenge. Let’s not allow the worry warts to hamstring us. Let’s tackle the problem. We may find, as BP Amoco has, that opportunity is knocking.

If we look for those opportunities, we can get beyond the unproductive polarization that has characterized our environmental debates in recent years. Slogans like “the economy vs. the environment” set up a conflict where none need exist, and those who use them serve the public badly. It’s time to get past this unfortunate state of affairs.

We can have honest debates about means, and I hope the ideas I’ve offered tonight will become part of those debates.

But the environment should not be a partisan issue, ignored or even denigrated by one party, taken for granted by the other. The citizens we work for deserve better than they’ve been getting lately.

I call on all of this nation’s political leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, to join me in remembering the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt. I call, especially, on the members of Congress from my party to heed the American people’s strong desire for a clean environment and to be constructive team players. Let us work together to safeguard the health of our citizens and protect the natural heritage that makes ours the most beautiful country on the face of the Earth.

Thank you.


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