So where's the controversy?
Perhaps Reagan’s commitment to the environment is best stated by his own words:
“What is a conservative after all, but one who conserves, one who is committed to protecting and holding close the things by which we live…. And we want to protect and conserve the land on which we live – our countryside, our rivers and mountains, our plains and meadows and forests. This is our patrimony. This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it.”
Timeline of Ronald Reagan's Environmental Accomplishments
Governor of California, 1967 – 1975
1967 – Signed into law legislation establishing Air Resources Board authorized to set motor vehicle emissions standards in order to reduce air pollution.
1967 – Signed legislative resolution urging the Federal Power Commission (now the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) to reject a license for a proposed dam on the middle fork of the Feather River. (In 1968, nearly 78 miles of the Feather River’s middle fork were protected from dams under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.)
1968 – Fostered political compromises that cleared the way for establishing Redwood National Park, now totaling nearly 132,000 acres of lands co-managed by the National Park Service and the state.
1968 – Led successful effort to block federal proposal to build 730-foot-tall Dos Rios Dam on the Eel River.
1969 – Worked for protection of Lake Tahoe by negotiating, with Nevada Governor Paul Laxalt, an interstate compact to jointly regulate Tahoe Basin land use and conserve Tahoe’s natural resources.
1972 – Led horse pack trip into the Sierra backcountry to announce opposition to proposed trans-Sierra highway that would have split the John Muir Trail. He also secured Nixon Administration opposition and urged California’s congressional delegation to oppose the proposed highway. (The highway project was canceled.)
1972 – Signed Republican legislation protecting north coast rivers and establishing state wild and scenic rivers system; vetoed weaker bill sponsored by Democratic state Senator Randolph Collier.
1974 – Signed into law legislation empowering the Air Resources Board to prohibit sale or registration of motor vehicles in California that fail to meet state emissions standards, a significant expansion of the board’s authority.
President of the United States, 1981-1989
1982 – 1988 – Signed 43 bills designating more than 10 million acres of wilderness areas in 27 states. The wilderness areas established during Reagan’s presidency account for nearly 10 percent of the National Wilderness Preservation System at its current extent. President Reagan signed more wilderness bills than any other president since the Wilderness Act was enacted in 1964.
1982 – Signed legislation establishing 110,000-acre Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in southwestern Washington State for research, recreation, and public education.
1983 – President Reagan’s EPA Administrator, William Ruckelshaus, banned the use of ethylene dibromide, a suspected carcinogen, as an agricultural soil fumigant.
1985 – President Reagan’s EPA Administrator, Lee Thomas, ordered a 90 percent reduction in lead in gasoline.
1986 – Signed legislation establishing Great Basin National Park, covering 77,000 acres featuring bristlecone pine forests, glacial moraines, and cave formations in eastern Nevada.
1986 – Signed the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act, which increased funding and strengthened the federal program to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous waste.
1986 – Signed Safe Drinking Water Act amendments requiring stronger controls on drinking water contaminants and protection of source aquifers.
1987 – Signed legislation establishing El Malpais National Monument, covering more than 114,000 acres featuring lava tubes, cinder cones, and archaeological treasures in western New Mexico.
1987 – Signed into law the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act, which established efficiency standards for 12 types of residential appliances.
1987 - Signed into law Clean Water Act amendments of 1987, which broadened the Clean Water Act’s reach to cover non-point source pollution and stormwater. The amendments established National Estuary Program to protect nationally significant estuaries, which now number 28, including Long Island Sound, Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds, Tampa Bay, San Francisco Bay, and Puget Sound.
1987 - Ordered U.S. diplomats to negotiate a strong treaty to begin phasing out ozone-depleting chemicals. The resulting Montreal Protocol was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1988 and entered into force in 1989. The Montreal Protocol, which President Reagan called a “monumental achievement,” has resulted in a 95 percent decline in production of the targeted chemicals. The atmosphere’s protective ozone layer has begun to recover.
The Montreal Protocol has produced a significant climate stewardship benefit because ozone-depleting chemicals have heat-trapping properties. Thanks to the Montreal Protocol, emissions of heat-trapping gases equivalent to nearly 5 years of global carbon dioxide emissions have been prevented since 1990. President Reagan’s leadership made that enormous climate stewardship achievement possible.