The release of the Fourth National Climate Assessment by the Trump administration illuminated a growing divide in the Republican party over climate change.
While the president’s response to the report was “I don’t believe it,” many other Republicans do believe climate change is a real concern, with legitimate science on its side. They just disagree with liberal policy prescriptions and often choose not to share in the left’s righteous panic.
The problem is the Republican narrative is clouded by obstruction. What began as efforts to stop President Barack Obama’s climate “legacy” have divulged into plans to prop-up fossil fuels at any cost — including a proposal to bailout uneconomic power plants at a price of up to $17.2 billion per year. Such ideas are anything but conservative. With 2020 on the horizon, Republicans need to realize the party response to climate change is failing and leaving political capital on the table for Democrats to take.
A legitimate policy counterbalance to the command-control, high-tax approaches of the left needs to be established. Too few original ideas on how to address climate change are coming from the right, and those working on conservative solutions are struggling to get their message out from under Trump.
The good news is conservatives do not have to put aside their values to find one; they just need to change their messaging. If Republicans want to win elections in competitive districts, they need to become bigger champions of clean energy. This industry provides an opportunity for Republicans to shape the climate change solution narrative as one that requires competitive markets, less regulation, lower costs and more consumer choice to improve quality of life for all.
Clean energy is competitive. Recent analysis shows major clean energy sources such as wind and solar are competitive with, if not outright cheaper than, conventional resources like coal and nuclear. Newer technologies such as battery storage and small nuclear reactors are also demonstrating great promise in terms of their ability to compete and lower costs for consumers.
Lower costs and innovation are translating into more demand and requiring policymakers throughout the utility sector to redefine regulatory frameworks and business models. Consumers want more clean power, including nearly half of Fortune 500 companies that have set renewable energy or sustainability targets because of the long-term value in adopting such practices.
This is driving job growth across the country. The United States is now home to more than 3.4 million advanced energy jobs, and both red and blue states are projected to see more job growth this year, including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Virginia.
Solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians are now the two fastest-growing jobs in the United States. The wind industry has also become a big target for veterans — currently employing them at a rate 72 percent above the national average.
Republicans need to realize the economic and political reality of clean energy is anything but ideologically inconsistent with conservatism and conservative values. There is room for creative policymaking and unconventional alliances. If the midterms are any indication, choosing not to do so will have political consequences.
Seven gubernatorial candidates openly campaigned to move their states to clean energy in the 2018 midterms. They all won. They were all Democrats. But, the midterms were also good to Republicans that chose to take the clean energy approach.
In Massachusetts, the solar industry was a big supporter of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s successful bid for re-election in 2018, praising him for his work fighting Trump’s solar tariffs and for establishing programs to increase solar in the state.
Voters in competitive districts are seeing more value in a Democrat with a reliable vote on climate than a Republican with symbolic gestures. While it is becoming easier to find Republicans praising clean power, the party must realize it is more politically advantageous to fight for climate voters than quibble with Democrats over multi-decade projections. A free society needs to be built, not just protected. Obstruction is not a policy.
Heading into 2019, if Republicans want to make a case for market-oriented economic prosperity and start peeling away members of a large Democratic constituency, then fight for clean energy.
Pasquale DiFrancesco is a Clean Energy Leadership Institute fellow in Washington, D.C.
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