Wednesday, April 21, 2021


Our nation is made up of thousands of “laboratories of democracy,” where families, businesses, communities, and governments are driven to find unique ways to overcome challenges we all face. This is especially true when it comes to environmental protection.

Every state, city, and town have their own approach to balancing the economic prosperity of their communities with the desire to preserve the environment they depend on for so much of their lives.

Too often though, government gets this balance wrong and forces one-size-fits-all standards on the rest of us. In large swaths of the country, we’ve given politicians and unelected bureaucrats far too much power over personal property, business practices, and even family decisions.

These politicians want us to believe the only way to protect the environment is to sacrifice our right to make choices for ourselves, that the free market is simply incapable of preserving nature.

South Carolina’s Lowcountry proves this simply isn’t the case.

The Lowcountry is renowned across the globe for its incredible natural beauty. From the beaches and marshlands of Hilton Head Island to the waters off Charleston, our little corner of the world represents everything conservationists hope to preserve.

But in the Lowcountry, you don’t have to be a conservationist or an environmentalist to have an interest in protecting the environment. All you have to be is someone who works or does business in the region.

Our community’s economic prosperity perhaps it’s very economic survival depends on keeping our environment healthy and beautiful. Nearly three million people visit Hilton Head Island alone each year, while Charleston sees over 7 million visitors annually. These tourists are drawn to the Lowcountry from across the country and across the world in large part because of our environmental beauty.

These tourists drive over $10 billion in economic activity each year, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in hotels, restaurants, and countless small businesses which empower workers to provide for themselves and their families.

All of this evaporates if we’re poor stewards of our environment. You don’t need to be an environmental activist or government bureaucrat to recognize this. The Lowcountry’s business owners and workers are fully aware that as soon as the first oil tanker or drilling platform goes up in smoke off our coast, so do their livelihoods. They’ll go to great lengths to protect the environment they depend on to succeed.

You only need to look at Hilton Head Island for proof of this, which relies largely on the initiative and actions of private individuals and businesses to protect the local environment.

Charles E. Fraser, who founded the world-famous Sea Pines in 1956, is a prime example. He recognized the natural beauty of Hilton Head Island back when there were about 600 people living there, and he knew he could start a business selling Americans a small slice of this beauty. Had he thrown caution to the wind and built with reckless abandon, the environment would be destroyed, no one would want to live on the island, and his business would collapse.

Fraser established “covenants” in Sea Pines to restrict development in the community. Not because he was a selfless environmentalist although he was a prolific supporter of conservation but because he was a self-aware capitalist.

A large portion of the island is now occupied by private communities who followed Fraser’s model. These communities enforce building height restrictions, plot size limitations, and strict protections of local trees and wildlife, all of which residents agree to follow when they move there.

These communities are private, for-profit businesses which have every incentive to balance growth with environmental protection. They also prove environmental protection, conservation, and capitalism can, indeed, coexist to ensure future generations get to experience the environment as we found it.

There are countless other examples across our country which show you can effectively protect the environment without sacrificing economic growth or personal liberty. Indeed, the free market is capable of preserving nature and driving economic growth without the heavy hand of the government dictating a one-size-fits-all solution.

• U.S. Representative Nancy Mace, South Carolina Republican, represents the 1st Congressional District and serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure, House Oversight and Reform, and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees. She graduated magna cum laude from The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, where she was the school’s first female to graduate from its Corps of Cadets in 1999.

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