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ASBC At The Conventions, Part I: Will Conservatives Embrace Sustainability?

If there’s one thing Mark Pischea doesn’t want, it’s for the Republican Party to shy away from renewable energy.

Pischea, a partner at the Sterling Corporation since 2010, also served as Political Director for the Michigan Republican Party and Deputy Executive Director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. With over 30 years of experience in political and public relations consulting, he currently promotes efforts to increase support for renewable energy among conservative politicians.

"I'm excited because conservatives increasingly see political value in supporting clean energy and the many economic and security benefits that it can provide,” Pischea said. “Our message to the convention is that policies to support the renewable energy sector will pay off with increased entrepreneurism, domestic jobs and security.”

The same is true for Jerry Taylor, president of the Niskanen Center think tank and a leading libertarian/conservative thinker on carbon issues. Taylor, who left the Cato Institute to start the Niskanen Center, sees a new groundswell of support on his side of the aisle - and he, like Pischea, hopes to take that message to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, along with ASBC. They’ll both be speaking at our RNC event later this month on the nexus between sustainability and conservative policy.

"There's a growing realization among conservatives that we need to start removing carbon from the economy,” Taylor explained. Essentially, we can either act, or feel the consequences.

Rod Richardson, president of the Grace Richardson Fund, a conservative private foundation argued for a “Clean Tax Cut”, a broad, Reagan-style, supply side carbon tax cut to all investment and income taxes rates. Such a policy would motivate corporations and taxpayers to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and adopt energy efficient strategies. "If you want more of something, you tax it less, that's a basic supply-side argument,” he noted, explaining that all clean energy and energy efficiency technology would be rewarded with tax rate reductions to accelerate investment, drive down costs and increase profits, while solving climate change. Richardson added the policy would not “pick winners,” favor or subsidize any particular technology or practice.


The idea that conservatives can’t support sustainable policies like growing renewable energy might seem accurate if you watch cable news, but in reality, there’s no reason why they should. More and more Republicans and conservatives are coming around to the realization that climate change is real, and it’s a major economic threat.

That doesn’t mean their solutions are the same as what liberals might propose. For one thing, conservatives are broadly opposed to agency regulations like the Clean Power Plan, which they view as more burdensome and less market-based than a carbon tax. They might also oppose tax subsidies for energy - but while that would mean no subsidies for wind or solar, it could also mean rolling back tax breaks for oil to ensure government isn’t picking winners and losers.

“The trick [to fighting climate change] is to use market forces so that we promote individual liberties and limit the role of government,” Taylor said. “A robust carbon tax that recycles revenue back to taxpayers and doesn't require growth in government. Harnessing markets rather than bureaucracy to address climate risk is the best solution -- and one that conservatives should be able to get behind."

For Ebie Holst, Founder & CEO of SplashLink, which connects buyers and sellers of water solutions to one another, there’s a slightly different focus, but her goal at the RNC event is the same - bringing sustainability into policy, especially among conservatives.

"Water resources play a critical role in our economy, from community utilities to a wide range of water-dependent industries, such as power generation, oil and gas, and agriculture,” said Holst. “With increasing stress on water availability and infrastructure in the US and globally, US companies have significant opportunities to innovate, as well as increase their trade footprint - many regions around the world are trying to solve water-related issues that the US dealt with decades ago. It’s an interesting time for the market.”

Added Ebie, “My hope is to bring together some of my fellow Republican colleagues to share insights on a number of opportunities that are available to us.”

These are panelists who recognize that economic growth is impossible if we don’t protect our natural resources, and that it makes no sense to simply act as though climate change or environmental degradation aren’t problems. If we’re going to have a debate on how to address these issues, recognizing that they exist is the first step.

Zach Bernstein is the research and social media manager for ASBC.