President Gerald Ford: An Evergreen Achievement

By JIM DIPESO, REP Policy Director

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: published in the Abuquerque Tribune on January 3, 2007.


The 1970s were halcyon years for America’s environmental movement, including here in New Mexico.

Two of the three presidents who served in that decade are remembered for their green achievements:

  • Richard Nixon for signing into law many of the nation’s bedrock environmental statutes
  • And, Jimmy Carter for sweeping actions to protect national parks and wilderness areas.

Not as well remembered is Gerald Ford’s environmental legacy. But it ought to be.

As the nation commemorates Ford’s brief presidency this week as he is eulogized and laid to rest, Americans – including New Mexicans – can be thankful for the lasting benefits of his environmental stewardship.

One of them is better gas mileage. America uses a lot of gasoline today, but not as much as it would have if Ford had not signed legislation establishing fuel economy standards.

A 2001 study by the National Academy of Sciences credits fuel economy standards with saving 2.8 million barrels of oil per day – equivalent to 13 percent of current consumption.

At $60 per barrel, those fuel economy savings keep $168 million per day at home instead of going overseas into the hands of dodgy regimes. Fuel economy savings prevent more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per day.

Ford signed the fuel economy legislation shortly after the Arab oil embargo, which gave shocked Americans a taste of how oil dependence endangers the economy and national security.

As oil imports continue rising and gasoline prices creep back towards last summer’s $3-per-gallon mark, the law that President Ford signed is a solid foundation for breaking America’s dangerous oil addiction. That is, if Congress and the current administration can summon Ford’s willingness to make tough decisions and strengthen fuel economy standards.

The Ford administration left its mark on the land as well. Nearly two dozen national parks, recreation areas and historic sites were established on Ford’s watch, and he signed legislation protecting more than 3.4 million acres of wilderness.

The protected wilderness areas include New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache, where sandhill cranes, snow geese and other waterfowl roam quiet marshlands, and Bandelier National Monument’s dramatic canyons and gorges.

One of the roots of Ford’s love for wild lands may be the summer he spent as a seasonal ranger at Yellowstone National Park. As the only president who ever wore the brimmed hat of a national park ranger, Ford often reminisced fondly about his hard work at America’s first national park.

Ford’s conservation achievements were fitting ways to celebrate the bicentennial of the United States’ founding. Looking ahead to America’s third century, he called on his fellow citizens to reach a “detente” with nature and balance human strivings with good stewardship.

In a speech dedicating the National Environmental Research Center, Ford said:

  • “We have too long treated the natural world as an adversary, rather than a life-sustaining gift from the Almighty. If man has the genius to build, which he has, he must also have the ability and the responsibility to preserve.”

Words to remember the plain-spoken man who served his country with decency, humility, and a steady hand.



We encourage you to read Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage by former Shell Oil geologist Kenneth S. Deffeyes (Princeton University Press, 2001; ISBN 0-6910-9086-6). As Jim DiPeso wrote in recommending this book: “It’s meticulously researched by a man who knows the oil business inside and out. The conclusion is inescapable — we have to start preparing now for the post-petroleum era. There can be no delay.”

Conservatives should conserve, shouldn’t they? (Plenary speech by Martha Marks at the annual convention of the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP), held in Arlington, Virginia on June 25-27, 2001)

Energy security, patriotism, and Roosevelt 101 (Five essays by Jim DiPeso, originally published online by Grist)

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