In the grand American tradition of innovation, invention and discovery, market forces have carried the United States into a position of undeniable global leadership. From the Shale Revolution to major companies slashing their emissions due to consumer demand for sustainability, these market forces are especially effective in combating climate change.
Meanwhile, as Americans, we often see our federal government standing in its own way while failing to achieve meaningful progress on climate change. While Congress has been platforming arguments between climate alarmists and deniers and the federal government has tried to regulate away innovation, private industry presses forward on climate action. Companies across varied industries—from manufacturing to agriculture to energy—are prioritizing sustainability and reducing their emissions, often while increasing profitability. Our government must encourage these projects rather than setting up countless roadblocks.
One such example of this comes from the Netherlands, where a tweet recently circulated of an entire tunnel being built in a single weekend. Quickly, Twitter users pointed out that, in the United States, a similar project could be held up for years by an environmental impact statement alone, delaying what is often badly-needed infrastructure.
Of course, assessing the environmental impact of projects is important, but our current approval process, courtesy of the federal government, is not working for Americans or the environment. There is no reason to waste years reviewing projects—such as an innovative offshore wind farm—that could accelerate our progress in the fight against climate change. Similarly, the maze of regulations surrounding nuclear power plants, which reliably produce zero-carbon electricity, is an astounding relic of outdated fears.
As President Biden gears up to tackle infrastructure and rebuild a greener economy, these self-imposed hurdles will only delay progress that is urgently needed. Innumerable climate activists and environmentally-minded Americans alike have realized that the United States has delayed climate action for far too long, but they fail to recognize the correlation between the progressives they vote for and the burdensome regulations that prevent us from gaining ground in the fight against climate change.
While these illustrations should speak for themselves, unfortunately, we are living in a time devoid of nuance, where plans that sound the best are given preference over those that work the best. Proposed action on climate change is often evaluated by the amount of government dollars spent, the number of pages in a piece of legislation, or by how many federal appointments we create to tackle the problem. While the government often plays a key role in our fight against a changing climate, federal bureaucracy and congressional stalemate tend to get in the way more than they help.
We are living in a time devoid of nuance, where plans that sound the best are given preference over those that work the best.
Again and again, big government trips over itself when it tries to promote clean energy, protect endangered species, incentivize private sector innovation or conserve iconic American landscapes. In fact, an overwhelming 95 percent of Americans hold a favorable view of our national parks, yet only 6 percent of Americans believe that national parks are in good shape. Despite the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act last year, the National Parks Service still needs billions of dollars for national parks maintenance, proving that government ownership of land is not at all synonymous with good stewardship.
It’s evident that miles of red tape and clumsy bureaucratic regulation don’t equate to environmental protection. Here in the United States, our strongest asset is the free market, and we pride ourselves on allowing entrepreneurs to compete in the marketplace. This is how the United States established itself as a leader in space travel, in the creation of the Internet and in countless other sectors. We certainly did not regulate our way to those accomplishments—we simply allowed markets to work. We can and must continue to lead the world in reducing emissions and developing clean technology—to do so, big government must first get out of the way.
Butcher is the executive vice president at the American Conservation Coalition and visiting fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.