Today, environmental protection is an almost entirely partisan issue. Republicans aren’t only reluctant to enact any environmental legislation — they’ve even attempted to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) altogether. That’s why Republican Kansas governor Sam Brownback’s recent accusations that his Democratic challenger Paul Davis doesn’t care enough about conservation sounded so odd. Today’s Republicans usually haven’t been on the right side of the environmental debate.
But it wasn’t always this way. Here are five Republicans who actively worked to save the environment.
President Abraham Lincoln
Through the Yosemite Grant Act, Lincoln is credited “with laying the groundwork for what we know now as the national park system.” Though he didn’t create the first national park, Lincoln was the first president to set land aside for protection and public use.
“This was the seed,” former Yosemite superintendent Mike Tollefson told USA Today. “This was the idea, that an area should be protected for all people for all times.”
Around 4 million visitors now visit the park every year to see its giant sequoia trees and mountains. In fact, Teddy Roosevelt was so inspired when he visited that he later expanded the grant and made it a national park.
President Theodore Roosevelt
President Roosevelt, who famously loved the outdoors, created the U.S. Forest Service after worrying that big-game hunters were damaging the environment and the wildlife. He also created 51 federal bird reservations, 4 national game preserves, 150 national forests, and 5 national parks during his presidency.
Roosevelt also supported the passing of the American Antiquities Act, which allows federal agencies and the president to preserve “historic” sites and landmarks. Roosevelt announced 18 national monuments through this act, which House Republicans tried to abolish this year in an attempt to limit President Obama’s power to designate national monuments.
Roosevelt ended up protecting approximately 230,000,000 acres of public land during his presidency, according to the National Park Service.
“There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred,” he said.
President Dwight Eisenhower
In 1960, Eisenhower established the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is currently “one of the most intact and untouched ecosystems in America.” Today, the 19 million acre area hosts 42 different mammal species, 36 species of fish, and more than 160 species of birds. It’s a mix of tundra, wetlands, mountains, lagoons, and coastal marshes.
The refuge is an oasis in Alaska free from drilling and development. Yet today’s Republicans have tried multiple times to allow drilling in the area, arguing that it would solve the nation’s energy problems, without feigning any concern for the effect that drilling could have on wildlife.
New York City Mayor John Lindsay
Mayor Lindsay was well ahead of his time when it came to making cities more sustainable. In 1966, his administration banned cars from Central Park Drive on weekends, inspiring other parks to follow suit. He also added some of the first bus and bike lanes in the country, promoting a more environmental lifestyle.
He even celebrated Earth Day by banning cars from Fifth Avenue on Sundays in 1970. Lindsay also proposed closing a stretch of Madison Avenue from 34th to 57th streets and designating the space entirely to pedestrians, though that plan never came to fruition.
His daughters remembered his love of nature at a recent dedication ceremony for the former mayor.
“We remember as young children, living in Gracie Mansion, that the six of us would ride our bikes together through Central Park with so many other families on bikes, or just strolling, and joggers, who would call out their thanks to our dad for closing the parks to cars,” Kathy Lake and Margi Picotte said in a statement. “The park was special to all of us and dad took great pride it having made it more accessible for all to enjoy.”
President Richard Nixon
Though Nixon’s policy is often overshadowed by Watergate, his administration was essential in creating sound environmental policy.
In 1969, he passed the National Environmental Policy Act, which was one of the first national environmental protection laws. It created a set of national environmental goals and required federal agencies to document the environmental impact of their programs.
In 1970, he created the EPA, which gave the federal government the power to regulate the protection of the national environment. He also signed the Clean Air Act, which allowed the EPA to create regulations to reduce air pollution.
In 1972, he signed the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and in 1973, he signed the Endangered Species Act. He also proposed the Safe Drinking Water Act, which ensures that the public water supply is clean and safe. It was eventually signed into law by his successor, Gerald Ford.
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