The title of this book has a yesteryear quality, but Ronald Reagan’s philosophy and actions about the environment are, if anything, more timely today than they were when he began defining them in his early years in politics.
The Sagebrush Rebellion was a movement largely by ranchers and timber people in the interior West in the latter years of the Carter administration to fight back against what they saw as undue government regulations and hostile policies by government agencies, which owned much Western land.
Reagan took up their cause, for it fit his own belief that citizens and their elected representatives should fight against government overreach.
Long a conservationist, Reagan, as governor of California, thwarted plans to build a trans-Sierra highway near the Minarets just south of Yosemite National Park.
He also said “no” to a federal dam, Dos Rios, that would have flooded the ranches of the Indians who had made Round Valley home for decades. While the Bureau of Reclamation did not require a governor’s approval for its projects, in fact, it never won a governor’s approval. So the Dos Rios Dam died.
Reagan saw as universal the desire for clean air, clean water and conservation of resources. Yet he also saw the environmental movement growing militant and unwilling to understand that a dynamic society needs economic growth for all of its citizens to have opportunities for fulfilled lives. This means balance between environmental demands and economic needs. As the author puts it, “It was clear to Reagan that the economy, energy and foreign policy were inextricably linked.”
During his eight years as president, Reagan had three secretaries of the interior, James Watt, William Clark and Donald Hodel. All three worked to make as realities eight policy principles the author summarizes:
• Restore good-neighbor relations with the states and the American people.
• Preserve and protect parks, refuges and wild places for the people. (Reagan created more wilderness lands than any of his predecessors.)
• Prevent radical laws from stopping projects, seizing land and stifling jobs.
• Remove burdensome regulations, shrink the bureaucracy and control wasteful federal spending.
• Provide for the availability of critical and strategic materials.
• Ensure the use of America’s vast coal resources.
• Explore the outer continental shelf’s energy resources.