“[P]reservation of our environment is not a partisan challenge; it’s common sense. Our physical health, our social happiness, and our economic well-being will be sustained only by all of us working in partnership as thoughtful, effective stewards of our natural resources.” -President Ronald Reagan, 1984
From Theodore Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan, Republicans have a history of environmental stewardship that has helped shape our nation. Today, this legacy is weakened by a false-choice poised between inaction and top-down government control of environmental policy.
While we see the president’s politically-driven push for heavy-handed environmental policy, the truth is, congressional Republicans and Democrats have already shown they can successfully work together to protect open spaces and wild places, while keeping the government’s reach in check. Through educational initiatives and supporting programs with successful track records, I am proud to advocate for bipartisan steps to address what President Reagan knew was a common sense issue, not a partisan challenge.
Land and resource conservation has always been an area of bipartisan agreement — and one which Congress has worked to strengthen this session. From reforming the tax code to extend tax incentives for landowners who set aside property for conservation purposes to fully funding the Forest Legacy program, steady progress is being made.
Additionally, there has been renewed focus on the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). For more than 50 years, this program has been the leading program in protecting America’s natural heritage and providing recreation opportunities for everyone — at no cost to taxpayers. The LWCF fund is supported entirely by a portion of royalties oil and gas companies pay for the right to drill in federal waters.
It is the only federal program dedicated to the continued conservation of our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness, Civil War battlefields, state and local parks, working forests and critical wildlife areas. Thanks to LWCF, Americans have enjoyed unfettered access to land within and surrounding our national parks, monuments, forests and historic sites from Pennsylvania to Alaska.
As the lead Republican sponsor of legislation permanently reauthorizing the LWCF I’ve worked with a growing coalition of House members to protect our nation’s most important conservation program.
While this vital program was allowed to lapse — expiring in September for the first time in history — Congress took action this month to provide a three year extension of the LWCF. This short-term extension removes the specter of uncertainty from the immediate future, but we must not top short of a long-term solution. With 200 co-sponsors of my legislation in the House and 18 in the Senate, support for permanent reauthorization is strong. Congress must act so future generations can reap the benefits of America’s natural beauty and diversity.
Ensuring that children and students of all ages have access to nature is one part of the puzzle, while educating them to appreciate the importance of the natural environment and act as future stewards is equally important. That is why I am proud to have advocated for legislation that passed as part of the larger Every Student Succeeds Act to bolster American students’ environmental literacy by strengthening their environmental education opportunities.
The provision contained in ESSA comes from the No Child Left Inside Act (NCLI) which I introduced alongside Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) in this Congress and the previous. NCLI provides access to federal grants for teachers who design and implement environmental education programs both in and outside the classroom. By encouraging new environmental curricula, the measure also cultivates partnerships and strengthens relationships between school districts, colleges, environmental nonprofits, parks and other community-based organizations — such as the Bucks County Conservation District which is a strong proponent of this idea.
Promoting environmental education is a down payment on our future. Study after study shows that connecting kids to the world around them improves achievement in science as well as reading, math and social studies — all subjects that strengthen our global competitiveness. The enactment of this important measure inspires the next generation of doctors, scientists and engineers and fulfills our responsibility to promote environmental stewardship and conservation throughout the nation.
Paired together, these examples highlight the progress of concrete environmental efforts being undertaken in bipartisan fashion. Through conservation, education, the continued responsible use of our natural resources, and the forces of free market innovation, we can build on America’s tradition of working together as effective stewards of our national resources.
Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick is serving his fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He represents Pennsylvania’s 8th district which includes all of Bucks County as well as a portion of Montgomery County. He serves as the Vice Chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.