Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Reagan was an, um, environmentalist

Posted by Rich Sweeney on December 3, 2007

In John McCain’s new “Environment” issue brief video he channels the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt and Ronny Reagan. (Actually the clip is funny because he says “Teddy Roosevelt was a great environmentalist, Ronald Reagan was a (verbal pause) environmentalist.”) Now usually I try to avoid politics on CT, but I thought this was a good time to bring up Ronald Reagan’s legacy on renewable energy. This may be old news to many of you, but I just learned recently that Ronald Reagan literally ripped the solar panels off the roof of the White House when he became president.

In the 1970’s the US faced an energy crisis due to the oil embargo. Under the Carter administration the US embarked on an unprecedented effort to reduce our dependence on foreign energy. One of the more ambitious areas of focus was on solar power, and, in addition to funding a massive amount of R&D and substantial tax credits for solar installation, Carter installed solar hot water heaters on the roof of the White House a sign of the nation’s intent.

Enter the actor from California. Reagan came into the White House and quickly cut funding for solar research and revoked the the solar installation tax credit (Evan has a good story about Reagan’s effect on the National Labs). Then, as a signal of his intent, he pried the solar panels off the roof and put them in the dumpster. 25 years later, we’re frantically scrambling to increase our national renewable capacity. Meanwhile, countries like Germany who invested heavily in solar in the past are acheiving impressive levels of renewables penetration.

Today, we’re lucky that Dutch’s old state, California, and companies like Google are picking up the slack. Nevertheless, Reagan’s pettiness and lack of foresight on this issue should be a source of embarrassment, not inspiration, for the current GOP candidates.

2 Responses to “Reagan was an, um, environmentalist”

  1. Evan Herrnstadt said

    I might have relayed this anecdote before in a previous post, but here goes anyway. A relative of my friend started working at one of the U.S. National Laboratories in 1981. During his tour of the facilities, he noticed a bunch of equipment and machinery sitting next to the dumpsters. His guide explained that it was Carter’s renewable energy program. One more victory over solar power for the Gipper.

  2. Drea said

    The GOP must be that desperate to acquire any possible support from the environmentalists if they are trying to get the idealized nostalgia that was the Reagan administration and label Ronny as an “environmentalist.” Anyone who has studied the Reagan administration knows that his staff, Regan, Meese, and Baker, who were actually in charge and not the president himself, did not care about the environment to the extent that they did not implement any helpful policies at the time.

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