Energy & Environment

College Republicans launch campaign calling for GOP to take action on climate change


College Republicans across the country are calling on the GOP to back a conservative climate action plan, arguing that failing to do so will hurt both the future of the earth and the Republican Party.

The new group, Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends, is lobbying Republicans to embrace a “Carbon Dividends” plan which aims to reduce carbon emissions with a free-market-based solution.

“What we’re hoping to do is amplify the voices of young conservatives. This really is a generational issue,” said Kiera O’Brien, a Harvard University senior who is founder and president of the climate campaign.

“Especially given the rise of the Green New Deal,” O’Brien continued, referencing the progressive climate action proposal, “we need to have our own alternative policies, because we can’t just complain about the problem and not propose a solution.”

The group, co-founded by 25 current and former College Republican chairs representing states across the country, is focused on lobbying Republicans to back the Carbon Dividends plan. The group’s leaders argue the plan would cut carbon emissions in half by 2035 if implemented next year, and they said it would exceed the requirements the U.S. agreed to under the Paris climate agreement during the Obama administration. President Trump later said he would withdraw the U.S. from the international accord.

Although the young Republicans don’t support the Green New Deal, which they argue is not economically viable, they also reject the GOP’s hesitation to talk about climate change and the Republican talking point that innovation will solve the issues facing the environment.

“We don’t think you can say innovation will get us there without a plan to induce [it],” O’Brien said.

The Carbon Dividends plan the group is advocating for proposes a gradually rising carbon fee. The net proceeds would be returned to U.S. citizens on a quarterly basis as a “carbon dividend.” The proposal also calls for removing carbon regulations in an effort to push businesses to innovate in a clean energy future.

“We’re bringing together not only politicians and business leaders, but also students like us — students who have a very strong incentive to see effective and actual legitimate policy enacted,” said Grayson Massey, a former Utah College Republicans chairman. “We feel like this is something that’s going to directly impact us, so we have strong motive for wanting to have people from different backgrounds be supportive of it.”

If the party doesn’t take up a climate plan, the young leaders fear the GOP could alienate a major voting bloc.

“I definitely think we’re at risk as a party of losing young voters if we don’t start to tackle this issue, if we don’t come up with ways to talk about it and come up with solutions,” said Isaiah Mears, chairman of the Indiana Federation of College Republicans and co-founder of the campaign.

“There’s a lot of single-issue young voters; I think that climate change is one of those moving forward,” Mears, a senior at Wabash College, added. “I think a lot of people will vote for the candidate they believe will best fall into their line of thinking when it comes to climate action.”

A spokesperson for the College Republican National Committee (CRNC) said the group neither endorses nor opposes the Carbon Dividends plan.

“Since its founding in 1892, the CRNC has embraced its role as laboratory of ideas that shape the future of the Party. The CRNC encourages thoughtful debate and the free exchange of ideas and has neither officially opposed nor endorsed the carbon dividends plan or any other specific climate policy proposal,” a spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday.

The GOP’s hesitance to back a climate plan has already cost the party votes, said Alex Bozmoski, managing director of RepublicEn, a conservative climate grassroots organization based out of George Mason University.  

Many GOP members in suburban districts got “walloped by moms and millennials” in 2018, he said, adding that climate change is becoming an increasingly important issue for voters. 

“If you just look at the rank and file Republican position on climate change from a year ago to today, it’s a pretty stark difference and that’s really encouraging,” Bozmoski said, adding that he’s “overjoyed” to have the young leaders join the “eco-right” in advocating for a conservative plan.

Another factor pushing Republicans to welcome a climate plan: growing support for the left’s Green New Deal proposal. 

“The Green New Deal has started to scare the hell out of Republicans,” Bozmoski said. 

“It’s incumbent upon conservatives to offer alternatives or else the country, for lack of options, will take what’s offered,” he added. 

The young conservatives are hopeful the plan will be embraced by the party. They noted that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) recently acknowledged his concern for the party losing young voters over the issue. 

McCarthy told The Washington Examiner in October the GOP needs to have “an open discussion about” what the party will look like in 20 years, and he welcomed a climate debate “instead of everybody saying we’re just deniers.” A spokesperson for McCarthy was not immediately available for comment in response to the new push from young leaders. 

But the party can’t easily dismiss the group led by college Republicans. 

“You cannot campaign in modern America without college Republicans,” O’Brien said, noting the young leaders are key players in campaigning for GOP candidates. 

“We believe that having the youth wing in the party … leading on this issue is so important because it’s a plan to protect our future,” she said. 

The young Republicans said they’ve heard support from Congress members and party leaders in their respective states. They’re preparing to launch their campaign, marketing the plan as an enticing proposal for Republicans to back. 

The group has hired field staff in regions across the country and plans to be at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February. 

Some current or former congressional Republicans expressed that the party would be open to welcoming a conservative climate proposal. 

“As someone who founded the ecology club in high school, it brings great joy to hear that young conservatives are addressing the issue of climate,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who launched the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus earlier this year.

“As we shift through various proposals, I am confident we can find commonsense solutions pertaining to our changing climate that also support and build upon President Trump’s strong economy,” he added in the emailed statement. 

Former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who co-chairs the advocacy arm of the Climate Leadership Council, an organization that also advocates for the Carbon Dividends plan, said party leaders should welcome the input from the youth wing. 

“College Republicans are on the front lines of recruiting the next generation. When they say the GOP needs to change course on climate, we all ought to listen,” Lott said in a statement.

Updated at 2:15 p.m.

Tags Carbon tax Climate change Climate change policy Donald Trump Green New Deal Kevin McCarthy Mike Braun

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