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Factsheet #111 on Energy and Environment

August 28, 2012

The American Conservation Ethic: The Principles of Conservation

Change Is Overdue

  • Environmental Policies Increasingly Ineffective: Congress is spending more and accomplishing less to conserve America’s environment and use the nation’s natural resources wisely. Since the 1970s, environmental public policy has jeopardized the environment and American liberty by empowering and enlarging distant bureaucracies, imposing inefficient and restrictive mandates, and crippling free markets.
  • Policies Don’t Address Environmental Realities: Many federal laws and rules are outdated. Some have accomplished significant environmental improvements but need to be revised to better address outstanding challenges. Implementation of others has strayed far from intended purposes for little environmental improvement in return.

Real Environmental Reform

  • Freedom as the Impetus: Free people and free markets are the engine of superior environmental policy for a cleaner, healthier, and safer environment.

The American Conservation Ethic

The American Conservation Ethic applies the tried and true values of rights and responsibilities to conservation with eight guiding principles:

  • People are the most important, unique, and precious resource.
  • Renewable natural resources are resilient and dynamic, responding positively to wise management.
  • Private property protections and free markets provide the most promising new opportunities for environmental improvements.
  • Efforts to reduce, control, and remediate pollution should achieve real environmental benefits.
  • As we accumulate scientific, technological, and artistic knowledge, we learn how to get more from less.
  • Management of natural resources should be conducted on a site- and situation-specific basis.
  • Science should be employed as one tool to guide public policy.
  • The most successful environmental policies emanate from liberty.

A Constructive Way Forward

  • Uphold the sovereignty of the individual: Encourage stewardship by protecting and extending property rights at the most basic levels and create a simple formula for compensation in cases of eminent domain and regulatory takings. Clearly define what and who is being regulated in new laws and established ones such as the Clean Water Act. Create a clear path of review and appeal for individuals being regulated.
  • Uphold the sovereignty of the states: Devolve more of the responsibilities and rewards of environmental stewardship to states. This would include opening access to federal lands and shedding other sections of the federal estate. Reaffirm state authority over EPA dictates to manage pollution challenges, as laws such as the Clean Air Act assert.
  • Uphold the sovereignty of the nation: Restore congressional authority over major regulations from federal bureaus and install measures that require a reasonable balance of regulation costs and benefits. Wait on regulations until the science is settled, as in the case of CO2 regulations. Engage in international environmental agreements tailored to the needs and abilities of participating nations for the most effective outcomes.

For more information, please visit http://www.heritage.org/research/projects/environmental-conservation.

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