A blueprint for Republican environmentalism

It comes from none other than Washington Democratic Sen. Scoop Jackson. Republicans can't be the Party of No on the environment, certainly not in this state.
Crosscut archive image.

Sen. Henry M. Jackson

It comes from none other than Washington Democratic Sen. Scoop Jackson. Republicans can't be the Party of No on the environment, certainly not in this state.

Evergreen State Republicans are thinking more than they usually do about the possibilities of a statewide governing majority. What Republicans probably aren'ꀙt thinking much about is this week's Earth Day 40. But if the Republican majority in Washington state is to be more than short-lived, Republicans will have to learn to take the environment seriously. They should look to the great Democrat Scoop Jackson as a model.

Sen. Henry M. Jackson of Washington was one of the great conservationist senators in our nation'ꀙs history. In 1969, the Sierra Club named Jackson the first politician to receive its John Muir Award. Though Jackson was considered a liberal until the Vietnam era, he was a model of conservative environmental statesmanship.

Jackson called for the protection of 'ꀜour national wilderness system'ꀝ while 'ꀜmeeting, outside the wilderness reserves, all our needs for commodities and for developed recreational areas.'ꀝ

Jackson sponsored or co-sponsored the Wilderness Act of 1964 to preserve millions of acres of land, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, the Alaska Native Claims Act of 1971 to grant 40 million acres of land to Alaska natives, and several national park bills. He authored and persuaded President Nixon to sign the Public Lands for Parks Bill of 1969, allowing the federal government to donate or discount surplus lands to state or local governments for parkland. He pushed through the National Environmental Policy Act to require environmental impact statements for large federal activities and fought to save the Everglades from agricultural drainage.

In all of this, according to Ben Wattenberg of the American Enterprise Institute and PBS, 'ꀜJackson was not an ecology freak who considered industry a villain or development an anathema. He was a balancer who believed in the possibility and necessity of reconciling environmental protection with robust economic growth.'ꀝ

In short, Jackson was a conservative environmentalist.

Thus, when the New Left began to promote a more regulatory approach to the environment in the 1970s, the conservationist Sen. Jackson had no sympathy for 'ꀜenvironmental extremists who attribute all our nation'ꀙs environmental ills to economic growth and to our large gross national product.'ꀝ The new environmental left preached 'ꀜa gloom and doom view of America that denies the existence of progress,'ꀝ he said.

For Jackson and other traditional conservationists, economic and technological advancement were entirely compatible with environmental protection. But as soon as the priorities of the environmental movement shifted from conservation to the restructuring of society, it became very difficult for political leaders to restore the kind of balancing statesmanship that Wattenberg had attributed to Scoop Jackson.

With liberal environmentalists setting the terms of the debate, Republicans often assumed the defensive. But Republicans can no longer afford to be the Party of No on the environment. Not with many Americans demanding positive, constructive environmental solutions and ready for a revival of Jackson's pro-conservation, pro-free enterprise, pro-limited government answers to environmental challenges.

If Republicans are to succeed in the 21st century, they must study Jackson'ꀙs example of environmental statesmanship. They must learn how to think and communicate effectively about the environment'ꀔwithout sounding like liberals on one hand or careless opponents of clean air and water on the other. Republicans must get involved with private-sector initiatives in the Northwest like the Cascade Land Conservancy and Stewardship Partners.

Republicans will face painful consequences for failing to change their approach to the environment. Failure to present positive alternatives to the regulatory status quo will allow liberal environmentalists to continue to set the environmental agenda. Failure to formulate a strong environmental agenda of their own will hurt Republicans in short-term elections and long-term overall effectiveness.

Acceptance of environmental conservation as a fundamental part of the Republican platform will open doors of opportunity across the country, and especially in the Northwest. It'ꀙs time for a few more Scoop Jackson Republicans for the environment.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors