Ronald Reagan on Environment

President of the U.S., 1981-1989; Republican Governor (CA)


Overcame objections from Cabinet to pass Montreal protocol

Evidence mounted that human activity was depleting the ozone layer--an invisible gaseous blanket that shields us from the sun's most harmful ultraviolet rays. One looming consequence: potentially dramatic spikes in skin cancer down the road. The chemical industry did all it could to cast doubt on the science, but the reality became impossible to ignore.

Ronald Reagan, that great foe of regulation, is the unlikely hero of this story. An avid outdoorsman and a survivor of skin cancer, Reagan overcame objections from industry and his own cabinet to champion necessary protections, embodied in 1987 in the landmark Montreal Protocol, the first UN agreement to be signed by all 197 countries. Deterioration of the ozone layer has been halted and indeed reversed. By one estimate, the Montreal Protocol will prevent an estimated 280 million cases of skin cancer in America by the end of the century.

Source: Land of Flickering Lights, by Michael Bennet, p. 77-8 , Jun 25, 2019

1983: Mass resignation of EPA officials

When President Reagan took office in 1981, his first initiatives were to override much of the Carter environmental agenda. Reagan, much like Ford before him, appeared to be obsessed with eliminating regulation in government altogether. He was equally as obsessed with deregulating the EPA. Reagan questioned the legitimacy of the agency as an independent authority. Critics argued that the Reagan program illegally delayed the promulgation of EPA regulations, "subverted statutory standards, and excluded the public from full participation in the regulatory process. More notably, these and other criticisms eventually culminated in an atmosphere of scandal that surrounded the Reagan EPA, a controversy that eventually led to the mass resignation of EPA officials in 1983.
Source: Cameron Lynch in W&M Env. Law Review, vol. 26 #1, p.222 , Jan 1, 2001

1983: Extended sovereign control 200 miles off US coast

In March 1983, in a little-noticed but historic act, President Reagan issued a proclamation confirming American sovereign rights and control over all living and nonliving resources within 200 miles of US coasts--a staggering addition to our natural patrimony of some 2 million square miles, or about 4 billion acres. The seabeds we now control and the ocean above are an unopened treasure house. Our new offshore domains could become a Louisiana Purchase of the 21st century.

Reagan's actions were a sound alternative to the ill-considered 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This UN proposal would create a socialistic system of control and regulation of the seas. It embodies an outmoded 1970s view of the world. Reagan would not approve the convention. If the nation is to realize the full potential of President Reagan's vision, we must create a forward-looking oceans policy that recognizes our many and complicated interests.

Source: Agenda For America, by Haley Barbour, p.277-278 , Apr 25, 1996

Dismissed acid rain proposals as burdensome to industry

[Reagan’s EPA director] was dismayed by Reagan’s cavalier dismissal of the importance of acid rain, which had destroyed fish and plant life in thousands of American and Canadian lakes and streams. During the 1970s it had become an issue in Canada, which objected to the pollution originating in US smokestacks in the Midwest and deposited in Canadian forests and lakes. Reagan had promised Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau during a 1981 visit that he would honor the [agreement which Trudeau had negotiated with Pres. Carter, which required] vigorous enforcement of anti-pollution standards.

After three years of much talk and little action, the EPA wanted Reagan to make a major budget commitment to reducing the causes of acid rain. The EPA’s proposal was assailed as wasteful government spending by Reagan’s OMB and was rejected by Reagan, who questioned the scientific evidence on the causes of acid rain and was reluctant to impose additional restrictions on industry.

Source: The Role of a Lifetime, by Lou Cannon, p. 533-34 , Jul 2, 1991

Western enviro ethic: pro-development, common-sense

Reagan did not share fears that he would be damaged by environmental issues. He believed he brought a common sense view to environmental issues that was widely shared by Americans. He always considered himself an “environmentalist,” a word he defined so loosely that he applied the term to James Watt as well. Left to his own devices, Reagan rarely thought about the environment in political terms.
Source: The Role of a Lifetime, by Lou Cannon, p. 526-29 , Jul 2, 1991

CA established CWA and OSHA, but over Reagan's objections

CARTER: Reagan blames regulations--[but those regulations] affect health and safety, and protect the purity of our air & water. We cannot cast aside those regulations.

REAGAN: That is a misstatement of my position. For Mr. Carter to suggest that I want to do away with the safety laws and with the laws that pertain to clean water and clean air, and so forth: as Governor of California, I took charge of passing the strictest air quality law that has ever been adopted in the US. And we created an OSHA, an occupational safety and health agency, for the protection of employees before the Federal Government had one in place. I am suggesting that there are literally thousands of unnecessary regulations.

CARTER: The air pollution standard laws that were passed in California were passed over the objections of Governor Reagan. Also, recently, when someone suggested that OSHA should be abolished, Governor Reagan responded, "Amen."

Source: The Reagan-Carter Presidential Debate , Oct 28, 1980

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Other past presidents on Environment: Ronald Reagan on other issues:
Former Presidents:
Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

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V.P.Joseph Biden
V.P.Dick Cheney
V.P.Al Gore
V.P.Dan Quayle
Sen.Bob Dole

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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022