If you don't learn from history, you're doomed to repeat it, a philosopher once said, but here's an addendum: You may also want to learn from it - as in reading "Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan's Battle With Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today" - because you do want to repeat it.
There you find out how President Ronald Reagan gave us policies serving the environment and the economy at the same time. Excuse me, President Barack Obama, but please visit this book.
It's by William Perry Pendley, who served in the Interior Department under Reagan and talked about the book recently at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver. He knows his subject inside and out, just as Reagan seemed to know environmental issues inside and out.
Reagan, he explains in this engaging, educational work, had done research and writing on the environment for years as a radio commentator. As governor of California, he had learned more about the operations of Interior than any president ever. He had guidance from think-tank wizards and a heaping helping of common sense, to boot.
The result of all of this was extraordinary environmental protections - restoring national parks, protecting endangered species, extending wilderness lands, safeguarding us against hazardous wastes - and something else.
This president increased energy production, refuting the 1977 prediction of his predecessor, President Jimmy Carter. He had said we were running out of natural gas and oil, meaning we therefore had to endure sacrificial pain.
On radio that year, Reagan said this just wasn't true. Later, after winning the presidency himself, he proved it wasn't by overcoming the best-laid plans of radical environmentalists and translating his analysis into programs that led to increased exploration, discovery and production of oil and natural gas. He boosted coal production, too, and through all of this fed a robust economic recovery he was otherwise helping to manage, reversing the economic spiral of the Carter years.
Reagan believed in American ingenuity. He trusted free markets and they performed as expected, and now - thanks partly to what he helped get going - we are nearing an energy boom. Sadly, someone is getting in the way: Obama, who is presiding over the weakest economic recovery since World War II and holds hands with the radical environmentalists Reagan fought.
Obama gave a speech on the economy the other day, asking, among other things, for more spending on infrastructure, which would not be necessary if he had stuck to his original plan to afford us infrastructure heaven in the 2009 stimulus. In fact, the projects chosen were not always the most important and money was diverted for such other stimulus objectives as spending $349,243 per home for broadband Internet access in one area where federal help wasn't much needed.
Talk about scandals.
The truth is that more seriously addressing waste would provide enough funds to fix highways and bridges most in need along with normal funds properly spent and non-federal efforts being pursued. Meanwhile, how about approving the privately financed Keystone XL pipeline that could provide thousands of jobs, lots of oil from Canada and billions to the economy? Science says do it, radical environmentalists are opposed and Obama is so far heeding them more than science and this particular infrastructure need.
But hasn't Obama, like Reagan, helped direct increased production of oil and natural gas? He brags as if he has, but he hasn't. It's happening, but mainly on private lands. Whereas Reagan opened up federal lands, Obama is playing hard to get. During his years in office, it's reported that energy production is down on them, even though they harbor resources vital in boosting the economy and adding more desperately needed jobs.
The issue, as a couple of additional sources recently agreed, is that it's easy for radical environmental groups to get in the way of permits when dealing with an administration that is largely in philosophical cahoots with them. One consequence is to limit an energy boom that would soon be bursting out all over if Obama would just do the nation a little favor. Repeat some Reagan history.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. Email [email protected].