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A small group of experts gathered nearly two decades ago in an effort to articulate a set of enduring principles to help policymakers develop sound environmental policy. After a period of debate and dialogue, these individuals produced eight principles rooted in individual liberty, property rights, and free markets that became known as the American Conservation Ethic, first published in 1996. Following publication, the authors introduced these new ideas to a wider audience, often referring to them in speeches, writings, and other analyses.
This volume builds on the American Conservation Ethic by putting forth a comprehensive set of policy recommendations to go along with the principles. In the following pages The Heritage Foundation not only republishes the principles for a new generation of policymakers, it also calls on many of the Ethic’s original authors and other experts to describe how precisely to put these principles into action.
Introduction: Environmental Conservation
In order to realize our nation’s primary environmental goal—a clean, healthy, and safe environment—policymakers should pursue regulations based on economic and individual freedom
These eight basic principles, first published in 1996, should guide and inform America’s environmental policy.
1. Government Claims on Private Property
by The Honorable Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II
For the Framers of the Constitution, the right to property was the essential principle of free government—“the guardian of every other right.” And yet, recent Supreme Court decisions have undermined this right, and as a result, property owners are now faced with the possibility of losing significant economic value through regulatory takings.
2. A Mechanism for Compensation of Regulatory Takings
by The Honorable Edwin Meese III and Robert Gordon
Regulatory takings decrease private property rights through bureaucratic measures and often have an unintended (and frequently negative) impact on conservation goals. To address this erosion of private property rights, Congress must protect private property from both physical and regulatory takings.
3. The Clean Water Act: A Problem with a Solution
by M. Reed Hopper
As a result of its broad reach, as well as the severity of its penalties, the Clean Water Act presents an unparalleled risk to individual freedom and economic growth.
4. Clean Air Through Liberty: Reforming the Clean Air Act
by The Honorable Kathleen Hartnett White
Over the past 40 years, the EPA has incrementally expanded regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act. The current EPA, however, is on an unprecedented regulatory spree that jeopardizes electric reliability, jobs, U.S. competitiveness, and state economies.
5. The National Environmental Policy Act
by The Honorable Craig Manson and Diane Katz
Predating the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was the legislative vanguard for environmental laws and regulations, but 40 years of experience has proved that NEPA is out of sync with present environmental, political, social, and economic realities.
6. The Endangered Species Act: An Opportunity for Reform
by The Honorable John Shadegg and Robert Gordon
The goal of the Endangered Species Act—the conservation of species—is laudable. In practice, however, this Nixon-era command-and-control environmental law has proven itself to be a costly and ineffective conservation tool.
7. The Federal Estate: Opening Access to America’s Resources
by The Honorable Donald Paul Hodel and the Honorable Becky Norton Dunlop
The federal government owns nearly one-third of the United States, a percentage that continues to increase as federal bureaucracies expand their reach and the scope of their activities. The current approach to managing the Federal Estate prevents good stewardship of these lands, but there are policy decisions that could be made to further fruitful and responsible use of these federal lands.
8. Carbon Dioxide Regulation and the American Conservation Ethic
by David W. Kreutzer, PhD, and Roy W. Spencer, PhD
Though it is colorless, odorless, non-toxic, and critical to photosynthesis, carbon dioxide (CO2) has been rebranded as a pollutant harmful to human health. This transformation— based on exaggeration and misinformation—is now fueling misguided calls for CO2 regulation.
9. Fixing the Flawed U.N. Approach to International Environmental Policy
by Christopher C. Horner, Henry I. Miller, MS, MD, and Brett D. Schaefer
The practice of addressing international environmental concerns (and, increasingly, domestic ones) through global forums is fraught with problems and contradicts conservative principles of free markets, property rights, individual liberty, and devolution of decision-making to the most local level possible.
Efforts to protect the environment in America have ignored the most powerful force for improving the environment: free people. The results of these misguided policies have been higher energy prices, lower incomes, less access to resources, and technological stagnation—often failing to produce tangible environmental benefits.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The Heritage Foundation, in collaboration with fellow experts on the environment, has published a new benchmark for progress: the American Conservation Ethic.
The Ethic reflects every American’s aspiration to make the environment cleaner, healthier, and safer for future generations. It is based on eight basic principles that were first published in 1996 and provides a roadmap to environmentally sound prosperity.
Much of the policy that has come to guide American actions on the environment is not based on scientific integrity. Heritage’s Dr. David Kreutzer and Dr. Roy Spencer, a climatologist formerly with NASA who is a research scientist at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, examine this in a chapter on carbon dioxide:
Any discussion of carbon dioxide regulation must begin by noting two facts: CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and anthropogenic (man-made) CO2 emissions have likely contributed to the observed warming of the past 50 years. The calls for CO2 regulation, however, are not based on these facts; rather, the current regulatory hysteria is the result of misinformation regarding the projected future levels of warming, as well as exaggerations over how much any future warming could be attributed to anthropogenic CO2. In addition, extreme weather events are increasingly attributed to anthropogenic CO2 emissions, despite a lack of evidence for any long-term change in these events.
Each chapter analyzes the effectiveness of the policies the U.S. has been pursuing and makes recommendations for moving forward with smart solutions that fix the problems of years past, protect and bolster individual property rights, and provide real benefits. The American Conservation Ethic addresses these major issues:
- Expansion of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The current EPA is on an unprecedented regulatory spree that jeopardizes electric reliability, jobs, U.S. competitiveness, and state economies. How can we reform it?
- Regulating carbon dioxide. Though it is colorless, odorless, non-toxic, and critical to photosynthesis, carbon dioxide (CO2) has been rebranded as a pollutant harmful to human health. This transformation—based on exaggeration and misinformation—is now fueling misguided calls for CO2 regulation.
- Property ownership and land management. The federal government owns nearly one-third of the United States, and it continues to take more through regulatory takings of private property. There is no way the government can manage that amount of land with good stewardship. Recent Supreme Court decisions have undermined individual property rights, pointing to a need for Congress to act to protect what the Framers of the Constitution called “the guardian of every other right.”
- Effectiveness of environmental legislation. The Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Endangered Species Act have been governing much of environmental policy for the last few decades. This has given experts time to assess the consequences—both intended and unintended—of these laws. The authors address ways that these laws are now out of sync with the environmental, political, social, and economic realities of today, and what should be done about it.
- Thinking globally, acting locally. How does the United Nations affect environmental policy here in America? The authors address the need for local and regional management of environmental issues so that those closest to the resources are responsible for managing them.
What is the point of environmental policy? The Ethic states that:
Environmental policies should inspire people to be good stewards. Through human creativity, we develop new sources of needed materials, more efficient means of collecting them, or substitutes for them—as well as the technology necessary to do so.
Economic growth is positively correlated with life expectancy, which is one of the most critical measurements of environmental policies—are people better off? There is a direct and positive relationship between free-market economies and a clean, healthy, and safe environment. Ownership inspires stewardship. To put this to work for our Earth and our people, we must work to decouple conservation policies from government regulation.
Job Creators: Proposed EPA Regulations A ‘Potentially Devastating Blow To Job Creation’
‘Now Is Not The Time To Allow EPA To Impose What Could Prove To Be The Most Costly, Burdensome, And Expansive Set Of Job-Killing Regulations Ever Crafted’
U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: “As The U.S. Economy Struggles To Get Back On Track, Now Is Not The Time To Allow EPA To Impose What Could Prove To Be The Most Costly, Burdensome, And Expansive Set Of Job-Killing Regulations Ever Crafted. … The American Council for Capital Formation has estimated that EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations could reduce business investment between $97 and $290 billion in 2011 and as much as $309 billion in 2014. EPA’s own records indicate that permitting provisions alone will cost applicants $125,000 and 866 hours of burden per facility. EPA has issued a guidance document to provide information to state regulator permitting agencies, but this guidance provides little clarity and virtually ensures that most permits will be taken to court. The resulting uncertainty is forcing businesses to curtail, or even cancel their investments—a potentially devastating blow to job creation and economic development at the worst possible time.” (U.S. Chamber Of Commerce, Letter To Members Of The U.S. Senate, 3/15/11)
- “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region, strongly supports an amendment offered by Sen. McConnell to S.493, the ‘SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2011,’ which would block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from imposing an unprecedented, uncontrollable new set of regulations on emitters of greenhouse gases—regulations with significant costs but negligible impact on global temperatures.” (U.S. Chamber Of Commerce, Letter To Members Of The U.S. Senate, 3/15/11)
EPA Regulations Will ‘Establish Disincentives For The Long-Term Investments Necessary To Grow Jobs’
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MANUFACTURERS: “At A Time When Our Economy Is Attempting To Recover From The Most Severe Recession Since The 1930s, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regulations, With No Guidance From Congress, Will Establish Disincentives For The Long-Term Investments Necessary To Grow Jobs And Expedite Economic Recovery.” (National Association Of Manufacturers, Letter To Members Of The U.S. Senate, 3/15/11)
- “The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the largest manufacturing association in the United States, representing manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states, urges you to support the Energy Tax Limitation Amendment, sponsored by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), to S. 493.” (National Association Of Manufacturers, Letter To Members Of The U.S. Senate, 3/15/11)
‘We Should Be Creating Conditions That Encourage Domestic Job Growth – Not Driving Jobs Overseas’
THE FERTILIZER INSTITUTE: “At A Time When Our Nation Is Experiencing A Sluggish Recovery From A Significant Recession, We Should Be Creating Conditions That Encourage Domestic Job Growth – Not Driving Jobs Overseas. We believe that Congress must act now to assert its authority over the regulation of greenhouse gases. Imposing a temporary delay of regulatory action will only increase uncertainty at a time when our country should be moving forward, creating jobs and growing our economy, not building roadblocks to recovery.” (The Fertilizer Institute, Letter To Members Of The U.S. Senate, 3/15/11)
- “The U.S. fertilizer industry is an important element of the American economy directly employing nearly 25,000 people and producing over $15 billion in output on an annual basis. The total contribution to the economy from the industry including input and supply chain is $57.8 billion per year, which supports over 244,500 jobs. The fertilizer industry provides an input that is indispensable to American agriculture and ensures a ready supply of high-quality food for American consumers.” (The Fertilizer Institute, Letter To Members Of The U.S. Senate, 3/15/11)
EPA Rules Could ‘Harm The Future Competitiveness Of Key Industries That Provide Good Jobs In Our States’
MIDWEST POWER COALITION: EPA Rules Could “Harm The Future Competitiveness Of Key Industries That Provide Good Jobs In Our States.” “The MPC believes it is equally important that Congress thoroughly examine the cumulative impact all of the EPA’s impending air, water, and solid waste rules will have on the Midwest. Several studies have suggested that these rules could threaten the grid’s reliability, increase electricity costs for our customers, and harm the future competitiveness of key industries that provide good jobs in our states.” (Midwest Power Coalition, Letter To Sen. Inhofe, 3/14/11)
‘EPA’s Ill-Considered Regulation, If Left Unchallenged, Will … Set Back Efforts To Create Jobs’
NATIONAL MINING ASSOCIATION: “EPA’s Ill-Considered Regulation, If Left Unchallenged, Will Drive Up Electricity Costs For Consumers And Basic Industry And Set Back Efforts To Create Jobs And Economic Opportunity. That’s why this amendment is necessary. It will protect hundreds of thousands of households and businesses that rely heavily on coal-based generation for affordable electricity. It provides clear certainty to manufacturing industries and power companies reluctant to expand capacity or their workforce out of the understandable fear of higher costs from EPA’s regulatory mandates and impractical compliance deadlines.” (National Mining Association, “NMA Welcomes McConnell-Inhofe Measure Blocking EPA From Raising Energy Costs, Unemployment,” 3/16/11)
‘(EPA) Efforts To Regulate Such Gases … Are Likely To Result In Unnecessarily High Costs’
AMERICAN PUBLIC POWER ASSOCIATION: “(EPA) Efforts To Regulate Such Gases Under The Statute Are Causing Undue Uncertainty For The Electric Utility Sector And Are Likely To Result In Unnecessarily High Costs.” “On behalf of the American Public Power Association, I am writing to express our support for the Energy Tax Prevention Act. APPA is the national service organization representing the interests of over 2,000 community-owned, non-for-profit electric utilities. These utilities include state public power agencies, municipal electric utilities, and special utility districts that provide electricity and other services to over 46 million Americans. APPA believes that the Clean Air Act (CAA) is not appropriately designed to address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) efforts to regulate such gases under the statute are causing undue uncertainty for the electric utility sector and are likely to result in unnecessarily high costs. … For these reasons, APPA supports congressional action to preempt EPA’s authority to regulate GHG emissions under the CAA.” (American Public Power Association, Letter To Sen. Inhofe, 3/9/11)
- EPA Tangles With New Critic: Labor (online.wsj.com)
- Senate News: McConnell Introduces Amendment To Stop EPA’s Back-Door National Energy Tax (chicagonow.com)