Commentary: As Trump threatens historic climate protections, Midwest Republican governors embrace clean energy economy

Any day now, President Trump is expected to issue an executive order attacking key climate and air standards, including the Clean Power Plan — America’s first-ever nationwide standards to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. His EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, has also questioned the scientific consensus that such man-made pollution is disrupting our climate. But the new administration does not reflect all Republicans’ attitudes toward the environment and cleaner power — far from it.

Concern about pollution — and its impact on our children’s health — has long linked Republicans and Democrats. Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, for instance, launched the conservation movement early in the last century, and, responding to cough-inducing smog and rivers catching on fire, President Richard Nixon signed the landmark Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Dick Munson of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Contrary to what you might see in the headlines, this bipartisan approach has continued in the months since November’s election, with four Republican governors in the politically critical Midwest advancing clean-energy measures. Consider Bruce Rauner, the Republican governor of Illinois, who signed bipartisan legislation to double the state’s energy efficiency portfolio and spur some $15 billion of investment in new solar and wind projects to be built in the Prairie State. That legislation, known as the Future Energy Jobs Act, will help achieve a 56 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas pollution from the power sector, almost twice what is required for the state under the Clean Power Plan.

According to Rauner, “I refused to gamble on thousands of good-paying jobs, and I refused to gamble on the energy diversity options for the people of Illinois. That’s why I fought to make this bill happen.”

Consider also John Kasich, Ohio’s Republican governor, who vetoed legislation advanced by fossil-fuel lobbyists that would have blocked clean-energy investments in the Buckeye State. Governor Kasich appreciates the need for energy diversity, and was unwilling to close the door on innovative technologies that would spark jobs and economic development.

Recognizing the economic and political benefits of clean energy, Kasich said: “If you talk to companies like Amazon and Google and Paypal, this new economy that we see, run by a lot of awfully young people, how do you think they feel about green energy? How would they feel if we went backwards as a state? They’re not keen on that.”

In Michigan, Republican Governor Rick Snyder recently signed a bill that extends and improves the state’s efficiency and renewable standards. The legislation, adopted by a Republican legislature, removes the existing cap on energy efficiency program spending, adds tiered incentives to encourage utilities to exceed the efficiency target, and increases the previous renewable energy requirement from 10 to 15 percent. Gov. Snyder said, “This was one of the finest illustrations of good, bipartisan, and broad-based work I’ve seen in my time as governor.”

Iowa’s Republican Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds in December unveiled the Iowa Energy Plan that will expand the state’s leadership in wind and other renewable resources. “Iowa recognizes and has identified energy as a key resource and area of strategic importance to the state’s economy and economic development efforts,” declared Reynolds. “Iowa is already a national leader in wind energy and biodiesel and ethanol production. State leaders want to ensure that we continue to lead well into the future.”

Governors Rauner, Kasich, Snyder, Branstad, and Reynolds demonstrate that environmental and energy debates need not be partisan. This misconception may instead be driven by status-quo fossil-fuel interests not wanting to open markets to competition. Many conservatives, however, appreciate that open markets lead to innovation and efficiency, which also are good for the environment.

These recent bipartisan advances reflect not only a stronger coalition of environmental and clean energy advocates, but also major corporations — such as Amazon, Google, and PayPal — seeking investment and cost-saving opportunities from efficiency and clean energy. Finally, they reveal growing support from conservatives and centrists, who want customers to enjoy energy choice and markets that allow new competitors to thrive.

In some of the very places that handed President Trump his victory, Republicans understand the economic opportunity of cleaner, smarter energy. Yet the Trump administration is going backward on pollution protections, putting the health and safety of all Americans at risk. President Trump’s attacks on the Clean Power Plan — an essential policy to ensure we achieve carbon pollution reductions and provide a long-term investment signal for markets — and other essential safeguards are an assault on the continuing bipartisan legacy of environmental protection in America. The new administration would be wise to listen to fellow Republicans and embrace clean energy’s economic promise.

Dick Munson is the director of Midwest clean energy for the Environmental Defense Fund.

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