Republican Senator Steps Forward on Climate Change, Solar Energy
May 31, 2013
Proving that at least one Republican Senator can read polls. And, Ok, he still gets a lot of it wrong.
Is he still wrong enough to get invited on to Fox and Friends?
The speech, which he delivered at the Oak Ridge facility, is in keeping with views Alexander has long espoused. But it’s in stark contrast to the energy and climate positions taken by his party’s leaders since 2010. After the tea party helped fuel the Republican takeover of the House, denying the science of climate change went from a fringe to a mainstream Republican view. Super PACs such as Americans for Prosperity, which has ties to the oil conglomerate Koch Industries, targeted Republicans who acknowledged climate change and supported renewable energy. During the 2012 presidential campaign, every Republican candidate but one, Jon Huntsman, questioned or denied the science concluding that carbon pollution causes global warming. And the Republican Party’s national platform, unveiled last August at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., mentions climate change only once—when it criticizes President Obama for making the issue a matter of national security.
Alexander’s speech highlights the widening schism on energy and climate change between moderates like himself and party leaders like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, often named as a likely 2016 presidential candidate. At a speech in March, Rubio said, “The people who are actually closed-minded in American politics are the people who love to preach about the certainty of science with regards to our climate but ignore the absolute fact that science has proven that life begins at conception.” Alexander himself has acknowledged the divide—last year, he stepped down after five years as the chairman of the Republican conference, criticizing the party’s increasing ideological partisanship.
Republican strategists are paying attention, and say that Alexander’s bold remarks could signal that the party is pulling away from its hard-right positions on energy of recent years.
“Lamar has always been one of the Republican Party’s most creative thinkers on energy issues,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who has worked for both Alexander and Rubio. “He’s never been one to follow somebody else’s talking points. He thinks for himself…. Tennnessee has a long record of electing and supporting creative thinkers who tend to become national leaders.”
Of the fact that Alexander’s energy message differs so profoundly from last year’s official party platform on the issues, Ayres said, “That’s where the party platform was. It’s very important to make a distinction between the party in 2012 and where it will be in 2016. It will not look like the same party.
Alexander’s speech covered many familiar talking points. He worried about the cost of state-level targets for renewable electricity, criticized the government for trying to “pick winners and losers,” and called for eliminating the wind tax credit in favor of more R&D spending.
However, his speech also included a few “maverick” comments that break from current GOP thinking on energy.
Early on in his remarks, Alexander commented on the need to develop low-carbon energy in order to address climate change.
“While the United States has made more gains in reducing the use of carbon than any other industrial country, the National Academies of the U.S. and twelve other countries have warned that human activity has contributed significantly to climate change and global warming,” he said. Alexander then went on to criticize cap-and-trade legislation.
Alexander also criticized state targets for renewable energy, warning they would put “too much reliance on sources that generate power only intermittently” and take up too much land area. However, he pivoted quickly to his support for distributed solar, which he said shows “great promise.”
“There certainly is a place for these renewable technologies, and solar power especially seems to me to have great promise,” said Alexander. “Fortunately, we have plenty of rooftops on which to put solar panels. And when they become cheap enough and aesthetically pleasing enough, they will probably become an increasingly important supplement to our country’s huge appetite for electricity — especially because the sun shines during the peak use hours.”