Conservatives should conserve, shouldn’t they?

By MARTHA MARKS, President of Republicans for Environmental Protection

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: This was Martha’s plenary speech at the annual convention of the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP), held in Arlington, Virginia on June 25-27, 2001.


It’s safe to assume that these are exciting and intriguing times for all of you environmental professionals. You’re getting adjusted to the new administration in Washington, learning the new cast of characters, and sorting through all the new philosophies, policies, and positions that they bring to environmental issues. I wish you lots of luck in that good task!

And I can tell you that for the organization I lead — a national grassroots organization called Republicans for Environmental Protection , or just REP for short— these are exciting and intriguing times, too.

You see, REP began in 1995, at the height of the “Gingrich Revolution,” when it looked like every landmark environmental law on the books was about to be tossed out like yesterday’s garbage.

That summer, we three women who founded the organization wrote the following as our mission statement:

“REP was founded to resurrect the GOP’s great conservation tradition and to restore natural resource conservation and sound environmental protection as fundamental elements of the Republican Party’s vision for America.”

And to think… when I was a little girl I thought the traditional “three challenges” of Grimm’s Fairy Tales were a tall order!

Well, back in 1995, we three women believed we were starting REP to counteract the anti-environmentalism of the 104th Congress. But now — six years and three Congresses later — I’ve begun to see our role in a different light. I now believe, as surely as I’m standing here this morning, that REP came along when it did, not to help subdue the anti-environmental radicals of the 104th Congress, but to help subdue the anti-environmental dragons of the George W. Bush Administration.

Now, believe me… I really hate having to make a statement like that about the president of my own party. I would much rather be able to stand up here and tell you what a great start our new GOP administration is off to on environmental issues. It’s a lot easier to lead cheers for those in high office than to swim against the tide of power or to tilt against the windmills of a bully pulpit. Yet that’s what we at REP are doing. We’re telling the truth as we see it… about our party’s misguided, environmentally-challenged leadership.

And we’re repeating at every turn our fundamental philosophy that Conservation is Conservative.

Let me say that again, in a slightly different way. Conservation IS Conservative.

There is absolutely nothing more fundamentally conservative than conservation. It’s not “conservative” to squander our resources. You know that. I know that. Sometimes it seems everybody knows that… except the self-proclaimed “conservatives” who currently dominate the Republican Party.

As I see it, that so-called “conservative wing” of my Grand Old Party — on environmental issues at least — doesn’t know what true conservatism is.

If they did, they’d want to conserve… conserve our heritage of public lands, conserve our clean air and water, conserve our threatened and endangered species.

Wouldn’t they?

If they were true conservatives, they wouldn’t be so eager to pave over the richest farmland in the world and encourage costly, inefficient suburban sprawl.

Would they?

If they were true conservatives, they would fight the destruction of our life-giving wetlands and ancient forests. They would oppose giving taxpayers’ dollars to special interests to deplete our natural resources. And you can bet they would be demanding efficiency above all else in our national energy policy and focusing like laserbeams on the mind-bending problem of global climate change.

Wouldn’t they?

To me, this confusion between what is truly “conservative” and what is not is more than just funny. And it’s more than just a shame. It’s a tragedy for the words “liberal” and “conservative” to have become so topsy-turvy when it comes to environmental issues… because now is the time to look to the future world we’re creating for our children, and their children, and their children. And since children are what those self-proclaimed “conservatives” always say they’re most concerned about, I’d like to see them start showing more concern for the world that our children will have to live in and raise their own children in.

Well, there’s no way I can address all the environmental issues that I’d like to this morning. You’d be stuck here listening to me all day! So I’d like to focus for a few minutes on just one key issue, and that’s energy. We at REP have been putting a lot of our own energies into this topic of late, and in fact the lead article in our spring Green Elephant newsletter is all about this critical issue.


One caveat before I plunge into this topic: I am not a technical expert on energy. I don’t talk in techno-jargon, converse about capacity factors, or even bitch about BTUs. I’m just a simple county commissioner and environmental advocate who is concerned about the overall direction of the Bush/Cheney Energy Plan. But through REP, I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by experts who have guided my thinking on this issue, and who know how to write about energy in ways that even a liberal arts major like me can understand.

OK, with that caveat out on the table, let me tell you how REP feels about the Bush/Cheney Energy Plan.

Well, I wish I could tell you that, exactly.

But the truth is…

  • Since I started working on this speech a couple of months back,
  • the Bush/Cheney Energy Plan has evolved and changed
  • from one that blatantly pooh-poohed the value of conservation,
  • to one that the president said would focus on conservation,
  • to one that supposedly was misrepresented by the president’s aides
  • to one that now is trying to address the problem of global climate change without
  • mandating the CO2 emission standards that the president once promised to mandate but then backed away from.

Whew! Head-spinning, isn’t it?

Trying to keep track of things — as the Bush/Cheney Energy Plan morphed from one incarnation to another — has been a real challenge to us at REP. However, one things has been abundantly clear from the beginning: the Bush/Cheney Energy PLan falls short from a conservative standpoint.

Now, you may be thinking: How can she say that? Isn’t this a conservative administration? A conservative energy plan?

Well… no. In its energy proposals, at least, this does not appear to be a very conservative administration.

Conservatives should conserve, remember?


So here’s REP’s key message on this subject:

  • It’s not conservative
  • to waste our resources,
  • put our national security at risk,
  • and squelch business opportunities for our country.

Yet that’s what the Bush/Cheney Energy Plan seems to be all about.


And here are four reasons why I feel comfortable making that statement:

REASON #1: The Bush/Cheney Energy Plan shortchanges efficiency.

Who can argue against reducing waste? Yet the Bush/Cheney Energy Plan places precious little emphasis on reducing waste. The push is all for new supplies.

The single most important thing we could do today to improve efficiency would be to raise vehicle fuel economy standards. But all the administration offers is yet another study. And they have proposed scaling back a new efficiency standard for air conditioners that would save Americans more than $18 billion over the next 30 years.

There’s certainly nothing conservative about that!


REASON #2: The Bush/Cheney Energy Plan perpetuates our dependence on oil.

And this has national security implications, as well as environmental consequences.

America possesses a mere 4% of the world’s oil reserves, yet we consume over 25% of the world’s oil production. So no matter how many wildlife refuges or wilderness areas or national monuments we might decide to trash to continue our inefficient use of oil, we will never be able to dig or drill our way to energy independence. The numbers just don’t add up.

And we will always be at the mercy of foreign powers as long as we’re dependent on foreign oil. That’s a big reason why brave American men and women must be stationed in dangerous areas around the globe… to defend the oil supplies that we rely on so much.

Is it a conservative policy to put our soldiers and sailors in harm’s way just to make America safe for… inefficiency?


REASON #3: The Bush/Cheney Energy Plan makes a long-term commitment to conventional fuels.

Rather than aggressively encouraging the development of 21st century technologies, it places too many eggs in our fossil fuel and nuclear baskets.

It continues to subsidize mature technologies like coal and oil, and throws even more support into nuclear fission, which is a technology that has never stood on its own financially.


REASON #4: The Bush/Cheney Energy Plan does little to address climate change.

The science is increasingly clear that human activities are affecting the world’s climate. Interestingly enough, in just the last couple of weeks, it appears the White House is finally acknowledging what a growing number of scientists has been saying for years. And that’s a very welcome development indeed.

We all remember back in March when EPA Administrator Christie Whitman was making the rounds of the newspapers and TV talk shows… saying that human activities are causing climate change. She said that — clearly and repeatedly — until someone in the White House threw a muzzle on her.

But muzzling a truth-teller doesn’t make the problem go away.

We conservatives are supposed to be prudent and cautious. It is not prudent and cautious to continue gambling with the world’s climate and risk long-term environmental and economic disaster. When dealing with a problem that has catastrophic potential effects, it is by far the more conservative position to err on the side of caution. Better safe than sorry. So, while I’m glad that the White House has finally acknowledged what the rest of the world already knew, the fact that it took so long for them to come to that prudent, cautious conclusion does call into question their basic conservative credentials.

Plus, it’s still unclear what the administration is going to do about it. Yes, there are still scientific uncertainties about climate change. And yes, we do need additional research. The time to act, however, is not when scientists have crossed the last “T” and dotted the last “I.” The time to act is when we have enough data to make informed judgments, when the risks of delay are real and rising. That time is now.

Action now will pay off. That’s why New York Governor George Pataki — a Republican who knows that conservation is conservative — has just ordered state facilities to improve their energy efficiency and start buying power from renewable resources. Governor Pataki did exactly what his predecessor in Albany, Theodore Roosevelt, would have done. He used the information at hand, he exercised his most prudent judgment, and then he acted.

And we conservation-minded Republicans all across the country are cheering loudly for him, because he did the right thing. Because he acted.


Well, by now you’re probably asking yourselves:

What’s REP’s idea of a good energy policy?

And that’s a very good question!

So, let’s see if we can’t identify a truly conservative approach to energy.







#1. LET’S SUPPORT increased Research & Development funding for energy efficiency.

The Department of Energy’s R&D programs have consistently been a worthwhile investment of taxpayers’ dollars. In the past two decades, every dollar spent on the top 20 R&D programs has returned $42 in avoided energy costs. That’s a return that would get a stellar rating on Wall Street.

President Bush, unfortunately, wants to cut energy-efficiency research budgets by 29 percent. REP believes that at the very least, we should maintain our current research budgets.


#2. LET’S SUPPORT government-funded R&D for renewable and hydrogen energy.

Until they are commercialized and can make it on their own, we should redirect our research priorities to give greater support to clean, made-in-America technologies such as…

  • fuel cells
  • bio-fuels
  • wind, solar, and geothermal energy

These new energy technologies will create great American industries. They will reduce our exposure to environmental and economic risks by diversifying our energy portfolio.

And we can justify research subsidies for emerging industries. They’re like young adults going to college. They need a boost to get ready for the market. It’s much harder to justify research subsidies for mature industries like coal and nuclear fission. They’re like 40-year-old children who are still living at home. It’s time for them to move out and make their own way.


#3. LET’S INCREASE mandatory vehicle fuel-efficiency standards.

Congressman Sherwood Boehlert — another great New York State Republican and REP America hero in Congress — has introduced a bill to require SUVs and light trucks to meet passenger car standards. That would be a great start!

REP America also believes that we should continue updating standards for vehicles, lighting, appliances and motors as technology advances makes improvements possible.

There are many benefits to increasing energy efficiency, some of which are not immediately obvious, such as…

  • cost reductions that make our businesses more competitive and our government facilities less of a burden on the taxpayer
  • reductions in air pollution, hazardous wastes, and greenhouse gas emissions
  • buildings that are more comfortable for occupants and a better value for their owners. Studies have shown, in fact, that energy-efficient “green” buildings improve employee productivity in offices, increase retail sales in stores, and raise test scores in schools.

I’ll give you an example from my home state of Illinois. A small castings producer installed a more energy-efficient drying system that cut its energy bills by $9,000 per year and paid for itself in less than two years. Better yet, the more efficient system eliminated a production bottleneck… so sales increased.

How much more conservative can you get than that?


#4. LET’S ACCELERATE growth in the market for new technologies.

We can do this through federal purchase of hybrid-electric cars, fuel cells, and solar technologies that will drive down prices by creating economies of scale.

You may well ask… why should the federal government try to influence the energy market?

Well, first of all, government influences markets all the time, from zoning codes at the local level to tax policy at the federal level. In the 19th century, land grants accelerated the completion of transcontinental railroads. In the 20th century, federal research and procurement helped spawn the microelectronics revolution. Beneficial technologies often face economic, institutional, and even cultural barriers that impede their acceptance, despite their obvious benefits. It is in our national interest for the federal government to accelerate expansion of markets for made-in-America renewable energy resources that will reduce the environmental, economic, and national security risks of fossil fuels.

The federal government is a huge customer for energy services in its office buildings, military bases, laboratories, and remote facilities. Volume federal purchases could jump-start the market for clean energy. A federal commitment to supply just 1 percent of its electricity needs through solar photovoltaics — spread out over 10 years — could create a demand for about 30 megawatts of PV capacity per year. That’s about 60 percent of the total annual sales of U.S. PV producers. According to Department of Energy Studies, each time the amount of PV use doubles worldwide, costs drop 18 percent.

That’s not chicken-feed. That’s conservative!


#5. LET’S START weaning ourselves off fossil fuels.

There must be no drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge… or in any other wildlife refuge… or in our national monuments… or offshore if the affected states don’t want it. Let’s get creative in our quest for alternative fuels and technologies and learn to live within our means.

All these suggestions —my “Five Let’s”— added up would begin to approximate the true meaning of conservatism. We at REP hope that the Bush Administration will soon begin to show its true conservative colors.

So far — at least with the Bush/Cheney Energy Plan — it really hasn’t.


So here we are on a beautiful summer day near Washington, D.C., and you know… just a few moments ago, I could have sworn I saw George W. Bush sticking his head in through the back door of this hall. Now, it’s a long way back there, so I could be wrong. But just in case President Bush might happen to be hanging around the back of the room right now, I’m going to put in one last plug for REP’s vision of our energy future:

You, Mr. President, could be the leader who takes America into a bright new day of cleaner, safer, sustainable energy.

That could be your greatest legacy, Mr. President. An environmental legacy that even Theodore Roosevelt would envy.

The time is right, Mr. President. We have the talent and the technologies to set a proud example for the rest of the world by transitioning our economy to clean energy.

Let’s get off the fossil-fuel treadmill, Mr. President. Let’s start thinking out of the box. On to newer and better things!

Mr. President, we’re with you. Let’s just do it!