Presidents before the 1980's

The actions of these Presidents to support environmental protection were counteracted by the actions of the Reagan administration, but they had a lasting effect on the impact of America on the global environment.

The Reagan Administration

The Nixon, Ford, and Carter Administrations of the 1970's set the precedent for environmental protection with the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Council on Environmental Quality. However, when Reagan took office in 1981, his administration was skeptical of these protections and worked to weaken their influence in the government through restriction of budgets and implementation of Reagan's own people into important authoritative positions in these environmental agencies.

Reagan campaigned against strict government regulations and worked to reduce involvement in the environmental arena, directly opposing the pro-environmental protection viewpoint that was upheld during the 1970's.

Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act

President Reagan had campaigned against strict government regulation, and this strategy showed in his passing of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981. Through this act, Reagan was able to gradually reduce the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 30% in addition to cutting the number of the Agencies employees. Reagan also began replacing some of these employees with administrators of his own choosing, people who were willing to follow the path of little government regulation and restrict the amount of involvement in environmental matters. Employees like Anne Burford at the Environmental Protection Agency and James G. Watt at the Department of Interior both were harshly against the idea of environmental protection, using their positions to further the idea of less regulation in environment matters. These appointments gave Reagan the success he wanted, changing the environmental policies from strict regulation to "cooperative regulation".

The act was the most attention Reagan paid to the environmental problems of the time. The act also angered most environmentalists, who felt that Reagan was not enforcing the environmental protection acts set up by presidents previously. The direct opposition to these earlier acts angered many people who hoped to protect American lands and stop all dumping, drilling, and other industrial acts done often by companies who want the most amount of goods for the cheapest amount of money, regardless of all environmental costs. Because this was largely the mindset of President Reagan as well, regulations for these things were very slack during the time, giving a large advantage to these companies in that they could now essentially do what they wanted with land and waters, as their pro-business president was on their side in terms of environmental aspects.

Reagan's Environmental Ignorance and the Consequences

Environmentalists feared the worst when Reagan was elected, due to his earlier statements that "Trees cause pollution," and "A tree is a tree. How many more do you have to look at?"

No, really.

Their fears were somewhat realized, because in the early years of the Reagan Administration, the administration worked to slash budgets, reduce regulation, and open lands for drilling, mining, grazing, and other private uses in addition to infiltrating important environmental organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency. These political moves by Reagan were made in an effort to promote business and industry by providing less government involvement in industrial and manufacturing practices, as opposed to the earlier strict regulations enforced by Presidents of the 1960's and 1970's.

Reagan also made the decision to remove solar panels on the roof of the White House West Wing. These panels had been placed on the House by former President Carter and contributed to the power supply that runs White House electricity. The panels remained absent for 31 years, until current President Obama reinstated them.

This ignorance would lead to environmentalists turning against the Reagan administration due to its belief in business. This belief would lead to the administration relaxing regulations on industries that used the environment to better themselves. Therefore, Reagan's image in the business sector was greatly improved, while environmentalists grew bitter of his refusal to uphold the protection acts and bills enforced by earlier Presidents.


Michael Beschloss, H. S.. N.p.. Web. 29 May 2013.


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Shabecoff, P.. N.p.. Web. 29 May 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/1989/01/02/us/reagan-and-environment-to-many-a-stalemate.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm>.