Newt Gingrich is not a newcomer to environmental policy. He taught environmental studies as a professor at West Georgia College and attended the second Earth Day, in 1971, embracing much of that era’s environmental doomsaying. Gingrich was a member of the Sierra Club and first ran for Congress in 1974 as an avowed environmentalist. (He lost.) Though he dropped the green rhetoric before he was finally elected, he continued to back environmental causes as a young member of Congress. In the 1980s he pushed for federal controls on the industrial emissions that cause acid rain and sought to have the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge designated a wilderness area, permanently off-limits to oil and gas development. He also co-sponsored the Global Warming Prevention Act of 1989, which called for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to at least 20 percent below 1988 levels by the year 2000. It’s no wonder he was heralded by environmental activists. In 1989, Wilderness Society president Randall Snodgrass said Gingrich was “a conservationist in the grand old style of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot.”
Notwithstanding his early record, few environmental activists today think of Gingrich as one of their own. He may not be the only Republican presidential candidate to advocate dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency, but he is one of the most forceful. However much he supported climate-change regulations in the past, he eschews such policies today, and he has become a fierce proponent of domestic oil and gas development. Yet environmental issues remain important to the former Speaker.