A former energy official for President Ronald Reagan argued Monday that a return to the former president’s human-centric environmental philosophy would secure a safer and more prosperous future than the current administration’s policies.
William Perry Pendley discussed Reagan’s efforts to balance environmental stewardship with the welfare of citizens in an event at the Heritage Foundation.
Pendley, who served as deputy assistant secretary for energy and minerals in Reagan’s administration, is the author of the new book, Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan’s Battle with Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today.
Reagan developed an affinity for the environment after opening a ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif., and serving as governor of the state, where about half of the land is federally owned, Pendley said.
But he differed with the "neo-Malthusian" view of environmental activists and members of Jimmy Carter’s administration that America’s fossil fuel resources were limited.
"Reagan did not believe the government when it came to our government’s view of the energy future," Pendley said.
"He proved the government was wrong."
Acting on his creed that "people are part of the ecology also," Reagan sought to lower energy prices and boost an underwhelming economy by unleashing domestic resources, Pendley said.
He spearheaded the leasing of federal lands, including the outer continental shelf offshore, for oil and gas extraction and returned control of coal mining to states.
Meanwhile, Reagan signed almost 40 laws bringing wilderness and coastal zones under federal protection and appropriated about $1 billion in his first term to update safety codes at national parks, Pendley said.
Reagan paired his conservationist policies with the optimistic belief that human technological innovation would also provide solutions to the nation’s energy and environmental problems.
That belief has been validated by the natural gas revolution, which experts predict will lead to energy independence for the United States by the end of the decade, he said.
"Reagan would not have been surprised with what’s going on today with hydraulic fracturing," he said, referring to the drilling process for extracting gas from shale rock formations.
Pendley contrasted Reagan’s policies with what he called President Barack Obama’s "war on coal." The president unveiled harsher regulations on coal-fired power plants last month that critics say will cause a spike in energy prices and have negligible effects on greenhouse gas emissions.
Additionally, Obama has dramatically scaled back the availability of federal lands for oil and gas discovery, Pendley noted.
A chart in his book indicates that the average annual acreage offered for oil and gas exploration on the outer continental shelf has decreased by almost half under Obama, lower than any other presidential administration since Reagan.
Current energy officials will achieve better outcomes if, like Reagan, they rely on human ingenuity to devise energy solutions and protect the environment, Pendley said.
"By human technology and our creativity, we find the green solutions," he said. "It’s not government mandates that cause substitutions and conservation."
"It’s saying, ‘Why throw that over the edge, maybe we can use that?’"