Sen. Curt Bramble once sarcastically referred to the acronym of the environmental group, Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL) as really meaning "Help Educate Anal Environmentalists."
A few years later, after an eye-opening trip to Germany and a few deep breaths of the inversion-trapped pollutants in the Salt Lake Valley, the powerful conservative from Utah County could be one of HEAL's strongest allies in the push for clean air alternatives.
Don't get him wrong, Bramble cautioned me when I interviewed him on this subject recently. He still believes in developing traditional carbon-based fuels, but he came back from his trip to Germany last fall with a new respect for renewable energy resources and believes investments should be made to develop them.
Bramble's conversion, so to speak, could be an important step in the campaign to fight global warming by relying more on wind, solar and geothermal power and less on coal and oil.
That's because it is easier for conservative Republican politicians to ignore and belittle traditional environmental groups such as liberals, tree-huggers, communists, the wine-and-cheese crowd than one of their own, especially Bramble, who not long ago was one of our most sharp-tongued critics of the clean-air movement.
Now Bramble will say he still is not convinced about global warming, but his trip to Germany converted him to the development of renewable energy as a supplement to the non-renewables taken out of the ground.
And the irony is, the trip was made possible through his involvement with the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a conservative, pro-business organization heavily supported by the extractive industries.
Bramble and a handful of other conservative state legislators from around the country were invited by the German consulate last fall to participate in an educational tour of the country to learn about its comprehensive green energy program.
It's one of numerous tours the consulate hopes to sponsor for officials from foreign countries through its Transatlantic Climate Bridge program. The idea is to export its ideas of developing wind and solar because cleaning the air and fighting the global warming threat is, well, global.
"The most impressive thing to me was not the technology but the cultural expectation of energy conservation," Bramble told me. "It permeates from the private sector to government to industry. What surprised me was the willingness of the public to accept the inconveniences (of moving to alternative energy) because the goal of clean energy is so important."
Bramble was impressed with the use of surplus wind energy to pump water to higher elevations and store it. Then, when the wind is not strong enough to produce the needed power, the water can flow downhill through turbines to produce the needed supplemental power. He spoke of one German town that is entirely powered by wind and solar.
"We can do a lot of these things on the state level here in this country," Bramble said. He recently visited a hamburger outlet in Eagle, Colo., that he said used wind and solar for all its energy needs and "everything in the store was made by recyclables."
He wants to look onto tax incentives to encourage development and use of alternative energy. He knows that the biggest challenge here is achieving the same cultural acceptance that helped drive innovations in Germany.