The evolution of the GOP's approach to a crisis

President George H.W. Bush acknowledges a reporter during a news conference at the White House on Dec. 5, 1991. (Photo by Greg Gibson/AP)
President George H.W. Bush acknowledges a reporter during a news conference at the White House on Dec. 5, 1991.
The Republican Party's approach to environmental policy may lack policy and scientific merit, but it's already incredibly clear: the GOP, en masse, does not believe in climate science, is unnervingly hostile towards the EPA, and generally sees environmental safeguards as annoying hindrances that stand in the way of economic growth.
But there's fresh evidence that the Republican Party wasn't always this way. James Carter flagged new, formerly classified materials from the Bush and Reagan administrations, which have been obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, and were released yesterday by the National Security Archive. As the Washington Post reported, it's a striking look back at an era that's practically unrecognizable now.

The memos, stamped "confidential" and kept under wraps for years, portray a White House eager to assert U.S. leadership on climate change. Global warming will have "profound consequences," one document warns, and the United States "cannot wait" until all scientific questions are resolved before taking action. The source of the memos: Not the Obama White House, but policy advisers to former president George H. W. Bush.

It's genuinely surprising to learn just how serious the former Republican presidents were about environmental protections. Some of the newly released materials, for example, showed Ronald Reagan's White House overruling members of his own cabinet in 1987 on an international policy protecting the Earth's ozone layer.
In 1989, when officials were first coming to terms with global warming, George H.W. Bush's administration endorsed the United States taking a leadership role in the fight against a threat it called "the most far reaching environmental issue of our time."
One administration official insisted that the United States "cannot wait until all the uncertainties have been resolved before we act to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to prepare for whatever climate change we are already committed to."
Remember, this wasn't an Obama administration official; this was a Bush/Quayle administration official making an argument 26 years ago.
On so many issues, the radicalization of Republican politics over the last generation has been extraordinary, but concern for the environment might offer the most obvious evidence of the GOP's change. The positions adopted by Reagan and H.W. Bush simply have no place whatsoever in today's Republican Party.
On the contrary, even a cursory look at this year's field of GOP presidential candidates shows a party with a genuinely ridiculous environmental outlook, especially when it comes to global warming.
For a more detailed look, here are the materials from the National Security Archive.