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Environmental Conservation

Eight Principles of the American Conservation Ethic

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

Eight Principles of the American Conservation Ethic

1. Government Claims on Private Property

2. A Mechanism for Compensation of Regulatory Takings

3. The Clean Water Act: A Problem with a Solution

4. Clean Air Through Liberty: Reforming the Clean Air Act

5. The National Environmental Policy Act

6. The Endangered Species Act: An Opportunity for Reform

7. The Federal Estate: Opening Access to America’s Resources

8. Carbon Dioxide Regulation and the American Conservation Ethic

9. Fixing the Flawed U.N. Approach to International Environmental Policy

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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

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Eight Principles of the American Conservation Ethic

These eight basic principles, first published in 1996, should guide and inform America’s environmental policy.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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