What would Reagan do about climate change?

Supporters of climate-change legislation are using a surprising figure to promote their cause: Ronald Reagan.

Radio ads asking “What would Reagan do?” are airing during the conservative talk shows of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck on stations in New Hampshire and are planned in other states in the drive to get Congress to act on global warming legislation.

The ads, which include clips from Reagan speeches, are the work of Republicans for Environmental Protection. They come as a group of senators works to draft a bill that can attract bipartisan support.

Though it may seem unusual to find President Reagan -- who frequently antagonized environmentalists -- in a campaign to promote environmental regulation, the group said the ads are designed to show that concern about climate change is “consistent with true conservative values.”

“What is a conservative after all but one who conserves, one who is committed to protecting and holding close the things by which we live,” Reagan’s voice intones in one of the ads, from his 1984 speech to the National Geographic Society. Republicans for Environmental Protection’s website offers a transcript of the full speech, in which Reagan says, “And we want to protect and conserve the land on which we live -- our countryside, our rivers and mountains, our plains and meadows and forests.”

Some environmentalists thought the ads were an April Fools’ joke. “They must believe, as author Gore Vidal put it, that we live in the United States of Amnesia,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

Critics of climate-change legislation were taken aback, too.

“I can say with no hesitation that Ronald Reagan, were he alive today, would not believe that global warming was a crisis and would not support energy-rationing legislation,” said Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the pro-market Competitive Enterprise Institute.

One of the ads cites Reagan’s support of an international treaty to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals.

“President Reagan decided to protect our atmosphere from a problem that, at the time, was not fully understood by scientists,” David Jenkins, vice president for government and political affairs for Republicans for Environmental Protection, wrote on the group’s website, “He discounted the arguments of those who claimed that the problem was not real or that the economic cost would be too great.”

Jenkins wouldn’t offer an opinion on what kind of legislation Reagan would have favored. At the Reaganlibraryin Simi Valley, John D. Heubusch, executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, said that although it is interesting to speculate on what Reagan would do on climate change, “that’s all it would be -- speculation. I know that, particularly in this economic climate, he would want to promote policies that protect our environment in a way that doesn’t cost us jobs or place an unfair burden on the U.S. taxpayer.”

A climate-change bill passed the House last year with the support of only eight Republicans. A large number of Republicans have objected that mandatory caps on emissions of power plants, factories and other businesses would increase energy costs and harm the economy.

But some Senate Republicans are thought to be open to legislation because of the new jobs and reduced dependence on foreign oil that supporters say would could come from the development of alternative energy sources.