Could Trump Tip Cons to Clean Energy?
September 24, 2016
Political conservatives are embracing new technologies such as solar and wind, as well as energy efficiency technologies.
“For young conservatives, clean and efficient energy isn’t something fringe or futuristic. It’s a regular and growing part of their lives, and they want their elected leaders to support renewable energy in common-sense ways that grow the economy, promote energy independence and defend American families from pollution,” said Michele Combs, founder and chair of Young Conservatives for Clean Energy Reform, following a rally in Washington, D.C., co-hosted not only by the Christian Coalition but also by the American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association and Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions.
The G.O.P. has long equated climate-friendly legislation with economic suffering. In June, for instance, Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, proposed rolling back “all climate-change regulations under the Clean Air Act” in order to promote growth. (Never mind that, in the years to come, the significantly greater economic risk actually lies in sticking with fossil fuels.) But Trump is also out of step with his potential voters.
Back in March, before he clinched the nomination, Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication found that sixty-one per cent of registered Republicans support the idea of carbon dioxide being regulated as a pollutant, and seventy per cent support tax rebates for people who purchase solar panels or energy-efficient vehicles. The same month, Gallup reported that concern over global warming was at an eight-year high in this country. The rise of Trump, in other words, coincides with a growing conservative focus on environmental conservation.
It is hard to imagine what will happen to American climate policy if Trump wins. (If he is elected, according to a report from the Sierra Club, he will be the only climate-change-denying head of state in the world.) But, given the reasonable chance that Trump will lose, motivated eco-conservatives are already positioning themselves to redefine the Republican Party’s climate and energy platform in a way that moves beyond institutionalized denial. Bob Inglis, a former congressman from South Carolina, sees Trump’s campaign as a window of opportunity. Inglis; his strategy director, Alex Bozmoski; and a small staff at George Mason University form the core of RepublicEn, a clean-energy advocacy organization.
Bozmoski, a former climate denier, is particularly candid about Trump, whom he calls “freaking crazy.” It’s the backlash to that craziness that Bozmoski hopes will help remake the G.O.P. into a champion of free-market support for renewable energy. Trump’s outspoken denial, Bozmoski told me, is “good for climate.” On RepublicEn’s Web site, he added, a cartoon likeness of the candidate serves as a “Bat Signal for people who want to fight the crazy with principles and pragmatism.” So far, strategies like this appear to have worked, at least on a limited scale. “In the six months since Trump won in New Hampshire, RepublicEn doubled twice, adding eight hundred and sixty-five members,” Bozmoski said.
Iowa obtained nearly one-third, 31 percent, of its electricity from wind energy last year. And Iowa’s Third District ranks in the top 20 U.S. Congressional districts for the most wind capacity, a new drought-resistant cash crop for the state’s farmers. The Third District also happens to be the home to the tallest operating U.S. wind turbine in the country. All of this simply means, out of the more than $11 billion in capital investment that wind power has attracted to local economies in Iowa so far, the Third District has seen some great benefits. That’s why it’s not surprising that a recent poll found 91 percent of respondents in that District support wind energy.
The poll also found broad support for government policies to expand renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Eighty-four percent of all registered voters support more funding for energy sources like wind and solar, including 91 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans. A similar number, 81 percent of all voters, support giving tax rebates to people who buy energy-efficient cars or solar panels, including 91 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans.
On regulating carbon dioxide, 75 percent of all voters expressed support for that action, including 88 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Republicans. A carbon tax on oil and gas companies netted less support among Republicans, at 47 percent, even as 86 percent of Democrats described it as a good idea.
That raises concern among some Republicans who see climate change, and the GOP’s positions on it, as an electoral issue that helps Democrats.
“I think the key number in this report is how it is a motivating issue for liberal Democrats,” Christian Ferry, who ran Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) presidential campaign, said in an email.
“I think if these trends continue, Republicans will find themselves out of step with voters who believe climate change is real,” he added. “I think Republicans should be trying to find areas of agreement with pro-environmental voters and seek to emphasize those areas rather than focus on the different views about whether or not climate change is real or the role mankind plays or doesn’t play in it.”