This weekend, tens of thousands of Texans will gather in Fair Park to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. And celebrate we should. We’ve made a lot of progress since 1970 in reducing air and water pollution and building a cleaner, healthier future.
As a Republican, I’m proud that the GOP has played a major role in environmental protection throughout American history. It was Abraham Lincoln who established Yosemite National Park in 1864 and George H.W. Bush who signed into law a stronger Clean Air Act in 1990. Here in Texas, then-Gov. George W. Bush signed into law one of the nation’s first renewable electricity standards, a measure that has helped propel Texas to become the undisputed national leader in wind power. And recently, the city of Georgetown — with a population 63 percent Republican — signed contracts to get all of its electricity from wind and solar power.
The fact is, we Republicans want clean air and clean water, too. We care about parks and natural areas and hope our grandchildren get to have some of the great opportunities we have had to experience the wonders of the great outdoors.
But these days, if Kermit the Frog thinks it isn’t easy being green, try being a green Republican.
The Republican-held Texas Legislature is in the process of unraveling some of our state’s best environmental achievements. Last week, the Texas House voted to pre-empt cities from adopting health and safety standards on oil and gas drilling. Days earlier, the Texas Senate voted to repeal the renewable energy law and to reduce the rights of Texans in challenging permit applications for companies to pollute. Any day now, the Legislature will vote on bills to weaken building energy efficiency standards and reduce penalties cities can seek when polluters break the law.
These actions aren’t just bad for the environment and public health, but they go against many conservative principles, the wishes of many conservative voters and economic development.
For example, the principles of local control and self-determination are deeply held conservative values, but some lawmakers are working to take away the rights of cities to make decisions for themselves on things including drilling policy, plastic pollution and tree preservation.
My alma mater, Yale University, found that 56 percent of Texans think the Legislature should do more to address global warming. That’s especially good advice as new federal environmental regulations are coming, and if Texas doesn’t stop refusing to even plan for the regulations, we’ll be left with D.C. officials writing the plan for us.
Well-crafted environmental policy can be very good for the economy. For example, Texas’ market-based renewable energy law helped attract $26 billion in investment by wind energy companies. The governor’s office reports that more than 100,000 Texans work in the renewable energy industry today. And according to Environment Texas, over the past four decades clean air standards have reduced air pollution by 70 percent in the United States, while gross domestic product has tripled.
Many businesses get this and support stronger environmental protection. More than 200 businesses will participate in Earth Day Texas this weekend, and many more across the country have endorsed proposed policies by the Environmental Protection Agency to limit carbon pollution from power plants and restore Clean Water Act protections to our streams and wetlands.
It was President Ronald Reagan who said: “What is a conservative after all but one who conserves, one who is committed to protecting and holding close the things by which we live …. And we want to protect and conserve the land on which we live — our countryside, our rivers and mountains, our plains and meadows and forests. This is our patrimony. This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it.”
These words are as true today as they were in 1984. Let’s hope our lawmakers heed the wisdom and, rather than gut Texas environmental protections, work to leave Texas better than we found it.
This article originally published in the Dallas Morning News.