Newt Gingrich on the Environment

The Washington Post makes what it calls a Newt Gingrich-John Kerry “debate on the environment” sound like a clash of ideological opposites, but Newt Gingrich aspired to be a handmaiden of the environmentalists while Gingrich was Speaker of the House.

The love was unrequited. The environmentalists attacked Gingrich anyway. (They raise money demonizing Republicans.) In private, though, the environmentalists had more luck getting meetings with Speaker Gingrich than conservatives working on environmental issues ever did.

The Gingrich-Kerry “debate” event’s announcement itself saysthe two men will explore “the ways in which Congress might be able to resolve its differences on this long-range issue through institutional change, new analytic techniques, and legislative innovation.”

I expect a conversation in which Gingrich and Kerry discuss ways of getting around people in Congress who support the Fifth Amendment, sound science, and a government at least a smidgeon smaller than the Earth the gaians worship.

For those who don’t recall — which will be many of you, since the press didn’t cover much of this during Gingrich’s speakership (it didn’t fit its template) — a short trip down memory lane:

Newt Gingrich co-sponsored H.R. 341 during the 1993-94 Congress, a bill offered by Rep. Gerry Studds (D-MA) that would not only have re-authorized the Endangered Species Act but would have strengthen it in ways that increase the potential for government abuse of landowners.

When Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) sponsored a property rights bill, S. 605, that would have required the government to compensate property owners if by regulatory action the value of their property is diminished by one-third or more, Gingrich urged him not to bring it up for a vote on the floor. At the time, even Democrat pollster Celinda Lake’s surveys showed the issue to be a winning one with the public. A Times Mirror poll the prior year found that 66 percent of the public supported compensation for regulatory takings of private property. A Polling Company poll at the time found that 72 percent of the public believed private property owners should be compensated for any losses in property values resulting from government regulation.

Gingrich co-sponsored legislation to create a National Institute on the Environment — an agency that would inevitably have become yet another government-funded body requiring the “discovery” of new environmental risks to justify its existence. It eventually would have served as little more than a funnel for government money to environmental causes, and have resulted in even more burdensome regulations on people and the economy.

Gingrich co-sponsored H.R. 987, a bill that established additional Wilderness Areas in the Tongass National Forest, making sustainable forestry uneconomic in a high unemployment area.

Gingrich voted for the Montana Wilderness Act (H.R. 2473), setting aside 1.6 million acres in Montana for Wilderness Areas (the federal government already “owned” 27.6 percent of Montana).

As Speaker, Gingrich set up a House Task Force on the Environment, which was designed to serve as a Rules Committee of sorts for all environmental legislation — no environmental legislation was to move in the House without the approval of the new Task Force. (This was an effort to end-run conservatives.) Gingrich then appointed Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), who has liberal views on environmental issues (a 92% rating from the liberal League of Conservation Voters at the time of his appointment, a rating higher than more than 50 percent of the Democrats in the House at the time), to co-chair it. Then Gingrich gave Republicans with views similar to those of liberal environmental organizations equal representation on the task force with Republicans holding conservative/limited-government views, even though the liberal Republicans were a tiny minority within the Republican caucus.

Newt Gingrich was one of the most green Republicans before he became Minority Whip in March 1989, based on the ratings in the League of Conservation Voters’ National Environmental Scorecard. Gingrich’s LCV ratings were as follows: 1979-80, 45%; 1981-82, 48%; 1983-84, 23%; 1985-86, 33%; and 1987-88, 50%. After his election to leadership in 1989, Gingrich’s LCV rating dropped dramatically — perhaps because he realized that his further rise in leadership depended on the good will of the members of his own party. His ratings for the Congressional sessions immediately afterward were: 1989-90, 12%; 1991-92, 7%; and 1993-94, 13%.

From the April 30, 1996 Greenwire, then-Speaker Gingrich on then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay, the latter a reliable limited-government sound science conservative on environmental and regulatory issues: “I think that Tom at times represents a different view of the environment than I do.”

I don’t dislike Newt Gingrich. A lot of his ideas are sound (maybe most of them, but when talking about the unpredictable Newt Gingrich, that’s a scary thing to commit to). I haven’t followed the progress of Gingrich’s environmental views much since he left Congress, but they are probably nuanced to the nth degree, and they probably aren’t very different than they were ten years ago.

Newt Gingrich has never before spoken for the conservative movement on environmental issues, and it is unlikely that he’s going to start now.


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