John Curtis and Benji Backer: Conservatives Are reclaiming environmentalism

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Students rally at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday May 24, 2019 to call attention to climate change.

There’s nothing partisan about being a good steward and caring for our planet. In fact, it’s one of few common beliefs held by all Americans. Regardless of party, we all want breathable air and drinkable water. We all want our children and grandchildren to inherit the earth we’ve been able to enjoy.

The climate is changing, decades of the industrial revolution have played a significant role, and environmental challenges need to be faced. With Republicans and Democrats both at the table, that debate is over. Now, the real work can begin.

Standing strong in our principles, Republicans can (and will continue to) engage on this issue. We need to leave partisan rhetoric and unrealistic proposals at the door and find solutions to real problems. As conservatives, the two of us have begun taking action ourselves. Rep. John Curtis has begun demonstrating to his colleagues that climate change is a pressing issue by introducing and supporting actionable legislation. Benji Backer saw that nearly half of the country wasn’t being represented by the environmental movement and founded a grassroots organization advocating for market-based, conservative environmental solutions.

This conversation needs conservative voices. Trying to fight climate change with only one of our two political parties is like trying to row upstream with one oar. If Republicans want to accurately represent our constituents — especially younger Americans — we must act on climate change. In fact, 67 percent of Americans believe the federal government is not doing enough to reduce the global effects of climate change.

Republicans in Congress can change this narrative. If we don’t, we’re not just putting the future of the Republican Party in peril we’re also risking long-term environmental consequences.

Small changes today to combat climate change will yield great fruits later. Now is the time to fix the leaky roof, not once it's already fallen in. To draw a similar parallel, our nation’s federal debt recently surpassed an unconscionable $23 trillion. The national debt has created a dire situation that will now require drastic and painful solutions that could have been easily avoided by minor changes decades ago. Without action taken, climate change creates a similar devastating trajectory.

Contrary to popular belief, joining the climate conversation does not require sacrificing conservative principles. While plans like the Green New Deal may dominate the headlines, there is not a single, comprehensive proposal to fight climate change that is realistic and effective. Proposals such as banning straws (making up 0.025 percent of plastic waste in the ocean) or banning fracking overnight (which has allowed our country to lead the globe in lowering carbon emissions) make us feel good, but will not actually solve the problems facing us. We can apply small-government, market-based ideas to the fight against climate change, and this is already happening throughout the country.

With this in mind, conservatives must reclaim their seat at the table on climate change. I, Rep. Curtis, alongside many of my colleagues, am bringing that leadership back. In November of last year, I introduced the Exporting Clean Energy Act, which would direct the Export-Import Bank to allocate funding to promote clean energy. I’ve also worked to promote clean geothermal and nuclear energy, among other issue areas.

But it’s not just me — other Republican legislators are also acting on the issue. Congressional Republicans have introduced legislation promoting nuclear power development, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology, advanced battery storage, and even proper forest management to prevent wildfires. Republicans have already helped propose 12 climate-change related bills in 2020 that are bipartisan and take immediate action to reduce emissions, all while keeping our economy strong.

These bills will not single-handedly solve climate change, but they address specific environmental issues in realistic ways and allow us to make significant steps quickly. Republicans’ innovation-based approach is actionable and ready to be implemented. By focusing on clean energy, carbon-negative technologies, critical natural solutions, and conservation efforts, congressional Republicans have claimed their place in the discussion. The media may not cover it, but Republican efforts on climate are ever-present and becoming the only realistic solutions being proposed in the climate sphere.

Our solutions are often different from those on the left, but we can agree that climate change is a growing challenge and that we need to work across party lines to solve it. Climate change will affect all of us regardless of partisanship, so delaying action only exacerbates the problem.

The future of the Republican Party depends a great deal on climate action. More importantly, the future of the planet depends a great deal on conservative climate action. With no time for hesitation, we must pursue options that can make a difference now. 2020 is the year of climate action and Republicans will lead the way. Will Democrats join us?

John Curtis

Rep. John Curtis, R-Provo, represents Utah’s 3rd Congressional District.

Benji Backer

Benji Backer is president of the American Conservation Coalition.