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Pence Makes Conservative Case for Free Market Environmentalism, True Conservation at VP Debate

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Julio Cortez

During Wednesday’s VP debate in Salt Lake City, Vice President Mike Pence handily trounced his opponent, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), on the issues.

What’s not getting much attention, however, is Pence’s answer on the environmental and conservation questions—issues our constituency cares deeply about. 


I believe the former Indiana governor cogently and clearly communicated the Trump administration’s record on environmental stewardship and true conservation very well.

Free Market, Limited Government Environmentalism

Many are quick to dismiss the Trump-Pence record on environmental matters. Why? Detractors claim deregulation, withdrawing from ineffective pacts, and repealing disastrous plans result in poor environmental standards. 

Quite the contrary. 

VP Pence began, “I'm very proud of our record on the environment and on conservation. According to all of the best estimates, our, our air and land are cleaner than any time ever recorded. And our water is among the cleanest in the world.”

He added, “President Trump and I believe that the progress that we have made in a cleaner environment has been happening precisely because we have a strong free-market economy. You know what's remarkable is the United States has reduced CO2 more than the countries that are still in the Paris Climate Accord, but we've done it through innovation. And we've done it through natural gas and fracking...”

U.S. emissions have gone down since our exit from the Paris Climate Accord. In fact, emissions decreased 2.1 percent last year. Criteria air pollutant emissions also dropped seven percent since 2017. 

This is largely due to the work of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which pledged for every new regulation two would be eliminated—alongside its promotion of energy independence. That same agency also helped clean up the Obama EPA’s mess following the Gold King Mine spill and updated the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. 


Here’s one noteworthy accomplishment flying under the radar: this EPA’s prioritization of Superfund site cleanup, which recently received bipartisan praise. A POLITICO article noted

The EPA under Trump has showed what it can look like when an administration gets serious about cleaning up long-neglected sites. Some of these activists are voting Republican for the first time in their lives. Some have seen their backyards and communities finally cleaned up because of the Trump administration’s EPA.

“I been a Democrat all my life,” Worley-Jenkins said. “Trump actually gives us money to clean up these sites that have been here forever,” she said. “Obama talked a lot of crap, but did very little. And people don’t realize that. They want to praise him, but he didn’t do nothing. He didn’t do s---.”

True Conservation is Front and Center 

VP Pence also highlighted the administration’s work on conservation with respect to public lands—accomplishments that often go unreported or are deliberately misrepresented. 

“Just a little while ago, the president signed the [Great American] Outdoors Act, the largest investment in our public lands and public parks in 100 years,” Pence said.

In August, the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law. It’s expected to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and address the maintenance backlog plaguing the National Park Service and other Department of Interior (DOI) agency lands. The Associated Press said the bill, if passed, would amount to “most significant conservation legislation enacted in nearly half a century.”


But there’s more.

Since 2017, this administration’s DOI has opened up over four million acres of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) lands for new fishing and hunting opportunities. They relocated the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to Grand Junction, Colorado, to better respond to needs out West (where 90 percent of federal lands are found).

The administration intends to fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiativeboost the Florida Everglades, and enhance wetlands restoration efforts. It has equally prioritized expanding big game migration corridors, Endangered Species Act improvements, and expanding or constructing new outdoor shooting ranges, among many goals. 

And for recreational anglers, they got a boost with the Modern Fish Act.


South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem recently told me, “I think that maybe us, as conservatives, just need to talk about it [conservation] more ‘cause we’re doing it every day; we just don’t tell our story very well.” 

She’s correct. 

For years, the Republican Party and the conservative movement played defense. Even more problematic: some activists offered a milquetoast plan or repackaging of radical environmentalist policies under a GOP banner. 

Both approaches were shortsighted and unacceptable. Thankfully, the tide is now turning.


VP Pence, albeit briefly, conveyed the conservative case for balanced use, environmental stewardship, true conservation, and an all-of-the-above energy policy. 

Free market solutions can correct environmental problems. Public lands have multiple uses. And yes, it’s possible to conserve wild places without onerous regulations.

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