RJ Smith box

Remembering R.J. Smith

The National Center recently lost a dear friend and colleague, Robert J. (“R.J.”) Smith.

For nearly 20 years — from 2005 until his passing in April — R.J. was a senior fellow in environmental policy at the National Center.  He studied environmental policy for nearly forty years, serving as director of the Center for Private Conservation and directing the private conservation program at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

An author, lecturer, and former student of renowned Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, R.J. touched the lives of thousands around the globe as a stalwart promoter of private approaches to environmental protection and conservation.

R.J. is the one who first coined the term “free-market environmentalism.” He embraced conservative environmental policy because he loved wildlife and found free-market principles to be the most effective means of protecting the environment.

RJ Smith bird watcher

R.J. Smith, avid bird watcher

Once a leader in the Audubon Society, R.J. ended up eschewing the politics of his fellow environmentalists:

At the time, R.J. found himself among birding friends who, like many environmental activists, looked to government regulation to solve environmental problems. Yet R.J.’s extensive knowledge of economics and appreciation for private property made him conclude that solutions to environmental challenges should come from the private sector. He began to formulate a concept and eventually help build a movement that he dubbed “free-market environmentalism.” In subsequent decades, R.J. dedicated his efforts to this movement and to public policies promoting liberty and freedom.

R.J. ended up serving in the Reagan administration’s Council on Environmental Quality, writing the original treatise on private voluntary stewardship as the humane and more effective alternative to punitive regulation. He also served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of the Interior, a special assistant at the EPA, and director of environmental studies at the Cato Institute.

RJ Smith David Ridenour wine

R.J. Smith sharing his wine appreciation with David Ridenour

In June, following a funeral Mass in Alexandria, VA, the National Center hosted a private gathering of R.J.’s friends and colleagues, who toasted R.J. and shared memories of his bird calls and his longwinded treatises on topics ranging from wine history to land grabs to intricate details of animals and plants.

At the event, National Center President David Ridenour toasted “a great friend, a great mentor, and the person who taught many of us everything we needed to know about private conservation.”

Godspeed, R.J. We miss you already.


National Center staff 2019

The National Center staff and family members at our 2019 Christmas party. R.J. is the tallest in our photo, wearing vertical stripes.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.