Newt Gingrich’s Environmental Record

With Newt Gingrich surging in the polls (last I checked), it’s worth taking a look at how Gingrich has dealt with environmental regulations, which has been terrible from our perspective. First, from Jonathan Adler (a law professor at Case Western Reserve University) who critiques a paragraph from Newt’s book A Contract With the Earth:

The ESA has more than a few “flaws” — it is an utter failure on environmental and economic grounds.  As I detail in the opening chapter of this book, the Act is failing to conserve threatened and endangered species, particularly on private land.  In some cases, it is actually doing more harm than good, discouraging habitat conservation and corrupting environmental science (as I detailed in this recent testimony before Congress).  And the claim that the Act “is an excellent example of the value of civility, consultation, and collaboration” is jut bizarre.  How could anyone say that about a statute that encourages preemptive habitat destruction, tramples property rights, and discourages cooperation between property owners and conservationists?  When Gingrich says he “worked . . . diligently” to “protect” the Act, he means that he prevented House Republicans from enacting reforms that would have protected private property rights and ameliorated the Act’s greatest flaw:

As Speaker of the House in 1995, Gingrich refused to allow a vote on a bill which would have reformed the Endangered Species Act, which as the paragraph above notes is desperately needed. Prior to his political career, he was a member of the Sierra Club, an organization which is not exactly known for striking a delicate balance between development and the environment.

More recently, Gingrich appeared in an advertisement with former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, in which the two exchanged awkward pleasantries and demanded government support for clean energy:

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Since the ad, Gingrich has distanced himself from supporting clean energy or demanding government action to combat climate change, first by explaining (with his usual hint of holier than thou condescension) that the advertisement was “misconstrued” and that he just wanted to make Republicans aware for the need to debate the left on environmental issues. This is odd, because I got the sense from the video above that there was little to debate between them because they were in fact in agreement on these issues, but Newt’s a lot more intelligent than all of us so I suppose its possible that we all just misunderstood him. Since then, Gingrich has called the advertisement with Pelosi one of the “dumbest thing’s he has done.”

Finally, Gingrich has also been a paid lobbyist/spokesman for the ethanol industry, as they struggle to hold onto subsidies that are being pulled out from under them. At the time, The Wall Street Journal called Gingrich out by name:

The former Speaker blew through Des Moines last Tuesday for the Renewable Fuels Association summit, and his keynote speech to the ethanol lobby was as pious a tribute to the fuel made from corn and tax dollars as we’ve ever heard. Mr. Gingrich explained that “the big-city attacks” on ethanol subsidies are really attempts to deny prosperity to rural America, adding that “Obviously big urban newspapers want to kill it because it’s working, and you wonder, ‘What are their values?’”

Mr. Gingrich traced the roots of these supposed antipathies to the 1880s, an observation that he repeatedly tendered “as an historian.” The Ph.D. and star pupil of futurist Alvin Toffler then singled out the Journal’s long-held anti-ethanol views as “just plain flat intellectually wrong.”

Mr. Gingrich is right that ethanol poses an intellectual problem, but it has nothing to do with a culture war between Des Moines and New York City. The real fight is between the House Republicans now trying to rationalize the federal fisc and the kind of corporate welfare that President Obama advanced in his State of the Union. We’ll dwell on this problem not merely because Mr. Gingrich the historian brought it up, but because it and he illustrate so many of the snares facing the modern GOP.

Now, Gingrich will certainly support increasing domestic energy production, which is a good thing. Beyond that, it seems clear that his political positions do not reflect genuine principles , but rather an opportunity to continue his political career.







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