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?

National Journal:

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.”

11 Responses to “Republican Senator Steps Forward on Climate Change, Solar Energy”

  1. Crazy for the Republicans to deny climate change is a national security threat, when the US military accept that it is. Should they be elected in 2016, will they prevent the military from taking preparatory action to safeguard against the effects of CC? Will the US Navy, for examle, not be able to retrofit their naval bases to accomodate rising sea levels?

  2. Shane Burgel Says:

    I think that this past election showed definitively that we will not have another republican president until the party dials back it insane rhetoric on science and starts taking a more rational position. Sticking your fingers in your ears, and yelling “LA LA LA LA LA” doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence from your intelligent voters.

    As a person who used to see myself as Republican and who still holds opinions in line with that party on some major issues, I’d love to see it reinvent itself.

    • Like (from the NationalJournal link above)

      Five years ago, Alexander gave a similar energy speech at Oak Ridge, laying out seven “grand challenges” on energy, including finding ways to promote plug-in electric vehicles, capture and use carbon emissions, help solar become cost-competitive, safely manage nuclear waste, make biofuels competitive with gasoline, make new buildings green buildings, and create energy from fusion. ”


      Alexander directly acknowledged climate change and the need to reduce carbon pollution. “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 12 other countries have warned that human activity has contributed significantly to climate change and global warming,” he said.

      Sounds like a smart republican. A rare and nearly extinct species.

  3. If Alexander is talking about his home state, then he would be correct as for wind energy. Like most of the Southeast States are dead zone for wind energy (on a large scale) solar is the only real renewable. He would also be correct on distributed solar for his state. In fact, there is a large emphasis on distributed solar now (The reason for his quick 180). The State has a number of hydro and working nuclear plants and two new ones under development. It also has a large pump storage plant as well. He is also correct about a state-level targets unless you adjust for each states capability An example Texas and Tennessee having the same target would be impractical. Texas has more wind and a lot more potential on solar as well but Tennessee doesn’t .

    Nationally he is completely wrong on wind tax credits and large scale solar (for most states). It is great to see him moving the group more in the correct direction.

  4. Tennessee conservatives appear to understand that time is not equipped with a gear shift.

  5. jimbills Says:

    So when solar panels become aesthetically pleasing (and cheap), then and only then we’ll give two sheets about climate change? Nice.

    Don’t expect the GOP to change their tune – guys like Alexander, Hunstman, and Inglis are the true fringe elements of their party. And the Republican form of correcting their mistakes is to double down.

    But seriously, the GOP mostly learned from the 2012 election and Obama’s success that they’re getting creamed on the minority vote and that they need a better ground game (Obama’s machinery was the best this country has ever seen). The GOP will run a bunch of minority candidates in 2016 – Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley, and Bobby Jindal – but my money is on Ted Cruz. He’d be a nightmare as far as national policy, but he’s by far the sharpest of the bunch.

    Peter, we care deeply about the environment, but the country as a whole does not. It’s way down on the list:

    The majority do believe in climate change, but when asked what they’d rather have – more jobs or less pollution, they’ll overwhelmingly pick the jobs, even if they want both. This isn’t a pretty picture for America, but it is what it is.

    And on any poll of just Republicans, it’s far lower. Just about any Republican candidate treats environmental issues like leprosy. They don’t want to be near it, they don’t to talk about it, and they think it can just be pushed off onto some island in the Pacific.

    Even the tiny handful that will address it talk in terms that any real solution to climate change is immediately off the table, or they’ll hogtie energy policy with something they do want (Laffer – yes on a carbon tax, but offset it with lower corporate taxes). These aren’t reasonable people.

    This is all I’ll say on this. It’d be nice if the GOP suddenly changed its tune, but this strikes me as extreme wishful thinking. They are so far off the mark it’d pretty much take a Body Snatchers type of event to pull it off.

  6. MorinMoss Says:

    Have we all forgotten that as recently as 2008 all the major GOPers believed climate change was real and that Newt and Nancy were making nice on a couch, telling us We Can Solve It together, recorded for posterity??

    People who can blow hot and cold like that are nobody’s friends; they’re pawns, plain and simple – emphasis on simple.

  7. fw134 Says:

    “[…] the absolute fact that science has proven that life begins at conception.”

    Really? When did “science” do that, exactly? And how? How did they go about testing when “life begins”? I’m not even sure it can be interpreted as a factual claim.

  8. andrewfez Says:

    Political Weirding:

    By RAY HENRY Associated Press
    ATLANTA June 2, 2013 (AP)

    “Tea party activists in Georgia are taking what appears to be a rare stand on energy, challenging a power utility’s reluctance to increase solar energy and questioning the ballooning costs of building a nuclear power plant.

    The Atlanta Tea Party’s action is relatively unusual among loosely linked tea party organizations nationally.

    Other tea party groups have condemned the adoption of “smart” utility meters that transmit information about customer usage, due to concerns that they would intrude on customers’ privacy. Or they have broadly backed less reliance on foreign energy.

    But relatively few have endorsed so specific an energy platform in their own backyards, much less promised to campaign on it.”

  9. […] 2013/05/31: PSinclair: Republican Senator Steps Forward on Climate Change, Solar Energy […]

  10. kokuaguy Says:

    Huntsman was not as courageous in 2011 his support for climate science as it is supposed:

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