Commentary: Conservatives need to ‘hit the reset button’ on energy policy

Hartley

Mike Hartley is the executive director of the Ohio Conservative Energy Forum.

Ronald Reagan said “What is a conservative, after all, but one who conserves.” He said it was our “great moral responsibility” to leave the earth to our children as we found it, or better than we found it.

As both a conservative and the father of two young children, I agree. We have a responsibility rooted in faith, economic realities, and the principles of good government to be stewards of this earth, so that it may continue to provide a strong quality of life for future generations. Stewardship is, in fact, a tenet of our Republican philosophy.

When it comes to energy policy, however, conservatives have been reluctant to embrace policies that promote this stewardship. In Ohio, we have allowed political rancor to polarize the issue. The result has been a freeze of the state’s clean energy standards in 2014 – standards that were established in 2008 with overwhelming bipartisan support.

It’s time that we, as conservatives, press the reset button on our attitude toward energy policy. All around us, breakthroughs in science and technology are changing the face of industry. Why then, when it comes to energy, have some conservative policymakers been so staunchly opposed to innovation? We know that new technology is giving way to energy innovation, entrepreneurship, and jobs – we’ve seen it happen right here in Ohio. Despite economic advances in the energy industry, however, some Republican leaders seem reluctant to accept this.

Current policies limit us to outdated energy sources and make us overly-reliant on foreign energy sources from the most volatile regions of the world. What would happen if we move toward an energy policy that relies less on foreign sources and more on resources right here in the U.S.? We increase our position of strength on the world stage. We increase the safety, security, and strength of our military. We help the economy by requiring fewer military resources to secure foreign energy sources. We improve our economy. These are outcomes that any conservative can get behind.

The truth is, however, it makes no difference on which side of the aisle you stand. Energy reform is necessary. There are solutions to our antiquated model of energy production – solutions that conservatives can and should embrace.

There can and should be conservative support for an innovative, competitive energy policy – one that embraces a true all-of-the-above approach. Enacting policies that foster the creation of a diverse energy portfolio will continue to make Ohio an attractive place to do business. Yes, Ohio is a coal state. And we have a healthy economy surrounding shale oil and gas development. We can and should continue to embrace these traditional sources. But in true conservative fashion, we should be encouraging innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit through new energy technologies.

These technologies have already helped to reignite Ohio’s growing economy by reinvigorating the manufacturing sector, providing jobs for veterans, attracting new business to the state, and ultimately saving ratepayers money. With Ohio’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, the state showed the country it wanted to be a leader in the realm of having a diverse energy portfolio.

Clean energy standards will create entire new industries and ripples of innovation across already established industries – transportation, communications, infrastructure, and more.

It is a false choice to say that we can’t promote clean renewable energy and energy efficiency without increasing costs that harm our economic competitiveness. Rapidly changing technology proves that is wrong. We can do both and must. A growing number of studies show that the costs of clean energy are dropping significantly. A recent study by Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance research unit shows that on-land wind energy is now cost-competitive with oil and gas, and solar is not far behind. The cost of inaction and obstructionist policy that stifles clean energy market innovation will come in the form of American security.

From a policy standpoint, there are myriad reasons for conservatives to support clean and renewable energy. But consider also the future of our party. Studies show that clean and renewable energy is important to young people today regardless of personal politics. The political landscape is shifting. Young conservatives are embracing the party’s historical tradition of conservation and stewardship. By failing to acknowledge this, we’re closing the door in the face of a generation.

Not so long ago, Ohio was a leader in energy innovation and home to a burgeoning clean energy economy. Our state is at a crossroads. We can lead again, but not without an energy policy that embraces both traditional energy sources as well as new, clean, renewable, and efficient energy sources.

Mike Hartley is the executive director of the Ohio Conservative Energy Forum.

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