Addressing climate change is a win for Republicans — why not embrace it?
In the heat of an election, politicians are sometimes pressured into supporting ideas and policies they know are ill-advised at best and socially and economically destructive at worst. One need only look at the ongoing Democratic presidential primary process to see nearly two dozen candidates clamoring over each other to claim the mantle of progressive idealism, embracing political and economic theories — like socialism — previously championed by ruthless dictators and since relegated to fringe elements of society. If so many Democrats are willing to do the wrong thing because they believe that’s what their voters want, why won’t Republicans do the right thing, especially when its exactly what their voters want?
Arguably no one understands Republican voters better than famed pollster Frank Luntz. Luntz recently disseminated a memo warning Republican lawmakers that not addressing climate change is a political vulnerability, and one that will only grow as time passes.
According to Luntz, 69 percent of Republican voters are concerned that the party is “hurting itself with younger voters” by refusing to address climate change. Further, Luntz found that 55 percent of Republican voters under 40 are “very or extremely” concerned with their party’s position on climate change. Finally, the Luntz memo said “we heard real anger that leadership has ‘ceded the issue to the Dems.’”
One answer might be that red states don’t benefit as much from clean energy as blue states. That would make sense if it were true. In fact, bright red Texas is the largest renewable energy producer in the country. Plus, five of the 10 states with the most clean energy jobs — Texas, Florida, Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina — voted for President Trump in 2016. Five other bright red states — Kansas, Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, and Idaho generate between 30-80 percent of their electricity from zero carbon sources.
Historically, it was Republicans that championed environmental interests. Republican administrations were responsible for our country’s most significant, robust and effective environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, and more recently the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. A Republican administration also established the Environmental Protection Agency through executive order. Republican leadership brought balance to the debate, ensuring environmental protections didn’t trigger economic harm.
So, what happened?
Executive overreach during the Obama administration left Republicans playing defense and reflexively opposing a train wreck of economically intrusive regulations — a necessary posture that should have lasted only as long as Obama was in office. Unfortunately, fringe elements of the Republican coalition, like the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), ran with the ball on what started as an honest struggle to find the right balance between economic prosperity and environmental protection and slowly convinced a number of elected Republicans in recent years that caring for the environment itself was unacceptable, even when doing so was economically beneficial.
As more facts about the economic, social, and ecological costs of climate change came to light, Republican lawmakers like Reps. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) stepped up and offered solutions. Rather than embracing them as pioneers, the GOP’s fringe elements denounced them. In fact, a recent E&E news article quoted CEI’s Myron Ebell saying he and his cohorts need to “educate them and thereby bring them back into line.” This doesn’t sound like serious policy-making.
Ebell went on to wrongly say that “It’s when conservatives have decided to offer alternatives, they have gotten beat…”. Right now, the leading proposal to address climate change is the socialist government takeover dubbed the “Green New Deal.” Why would the Republican Party, otherwise known as the party of ideas, not propose economically productive alternatives — especially when those alternatives create economic opportunity and jobs in red states, and are a top priority for Republican voters?
If Republicans don’t find the answers to these questions soon, we better learn to enjoy life in the minority. And to those young GOP staffers advocating for change, keep fighting the good fight. You’re not alone. The proof is in the polling.
Shane Skelton is a partner at energy and environmental consulting firm S2C Pacific, Fellow at USC’s Schwarzenegger Institute, co-host of the Political Climate Podcast and a former energy aide to former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio).
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.