Forty-five years ago, I took a job in the Nixon White House charged with setting up our nation’s international drug control program. While dealing with heroin addiction and the Vietnam War were higher priorities, there was a buzz in 1970 about a “new cause”: protecting the environment.
On the first Earth Day I watched as 20 million Americans rallied to demand a healthy, sustainable environment. That spark led a Democratic Congress and my Republican administration to close ranks to enact the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, and protect millions of acres of wilderness, including Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
I eventually resigned, disillusioned by Watergate, and returned to the West, joining high-tech forest products company Trus Joist Corporation and raising my family in Idaho with its wild rivers, soaring mountains and outdoor lifestyle.
Idaho faced tough environmental issues, including clear-cutting, clean water and nuclear waste. As a businessman, I knew our forests needed to create jobs as well as provide solitude and outdoor recreation. Balancing these interests was important to my industry — and necessary for our lifestyle.
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I cheered compromises that expanded wilderness and admired those like Gov. Cecil Andrus and Sen. Jim McClure, who sought to find environmental middle ground, and groups such as the Idaho Conservation League and The Wilderness Society when they supported collaborative solutions to divisive environmental issues.
Later, a Democratic congressman, I had the good fortune to work with Idaho’s current champions of bipartisan environmental compromise, Sen. Mike Crapo, who protected the Owyhee Canyonlands, and Rep. Mike Simpson, who has spent years working with stakeholders to craft the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA). Either Simpson’s legislation or a proposed Boulder-White Clouds National Monument will create jobs and protect vital, at-risk wild country.
But as important as these local efforts are, we now face an environmental challenge far more threatening: saving our children from accelerating climate change. Extreme weather, rising seas and less water in the arid West. And, because people rarely drown or starve silently, increasing overseas violence and political instability.
Accelerating climate change is the most serious environmental issue facing our children. Our efforts to respond have so far been halting and inadequate. Too many, like frogs sitting in a pot slowly heating on a stove, deny it’s getting warmer or that the pot might boil. Sadly for those yet to feel the heat, even if the EPA succeeds in its current, expensive effort to regulate major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. and the world are on course to fall far short of the reductions scientists say are necessary to protect our planet.
America can’t do this job alone. Our response must be bipartisan, free enterprise and global.
Last year I co-founded the Partnership for Responsible Growth, which supports Carbon Funded Tax Cuts, imposing a revenue-neutral pollution fee on major greenhouse gas emitters, using the proceeds to lower the corporate income tax rate and protect low-income consumers while suspending the EPA’s “command and control” effort to regulate greenhouse gas. It’s a jobs-creating, free market solution with a two-way border adjustment tariff to force China and others to follow suit in their own self-interest. It’s much faster and far cheaper than current policy.
Combating climate change needs clear-thinking advocates, activists and engagement. Inspired by those millions who took to the streets 45 years ago on that first Earth Day, let’s ensure that the U.S. leads the world by adopting a bipartisan, free market solution.
Walt Minnick is a former congressman from Idaho and is co-founder and partner for Partnership for Responsible Growth.