Michigan Conservatives Team Up To Support Clean Energy

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A group of Republican leaders in Michigan are pushing the state to diversify its energy sources, an objective they say has been the domain of liberals only for too long.

The Michigan Conservative Energy Forum, which launched Tuesday, aims to get Michigan to adopt an “all of the above” energy strategy that includes renewable energy sources. The group’s statement of principles explains that pushing for clean, renewable energy makes sense for multiple reasons — it’s in line with the Christian tenet of being Earth’s stewards; it makes America safer by reducing our reliance on foreign oil; it’s in line with what voters in Michigan want, and will make the state’s Republicans more relevant to younger generations of voters.

Larry Ward, former Michigan Republican Party political director and executive director of the forum, told ThinkProgress he wants the group to give conservatives a place at the table in the discussion over energy in Michigan.

“When I look back, for a long time, this whole energy discussion has been dominated by one side, and it really shouldn’t be that way,” he said. “If you think about the origins of conservation or conservativism in general, back in the days of Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and Michigan’s own Gerald Ford, they were all into protecting natural resources.”

Ward said the group bills itself as an “all of the above” strategy group so it doesn’t limit itself to being simply anti-coal or pro-renewables, and also because he knows that Michigan will have to employ a range of energy sources if it wants to truly diversify. Michigan depends on coal for about 60 percent of its energy needs, but it has to import the coal from out of state. Producing energy from solar, wind or natural gas from within the state would keep money and jobs in Michigan.

The Sierra Club’s Michigan chapter lauded the group’s creation.

“I think it’s great news,” Tiffany Hartung, campaign representative for the Michigan Sierra Club, told ThinkProgress. “It really shows that moving to clean, renewable energy is a very bipartisan issue. There’s not many people that don’t support moving to clean energy — in Michigan, like many other states, it means a lot of jobs.”

Hartung said that the Sierra Club hadn’t reached out to the Conservative Energy Forum yet, but that she was looking forward to working with the group in the future. She also said pushing a clean energy agenda was in line with voters’ views in the state — both Democrats and Republicans. Polling after the 2012 presidential election found 73 percent of Michiganders supported increasing renewable energy in the state.

“I think it really does reflect where people are in Michigan,” she said. “The only interests that don’t support clean energy are fossil fuel interests.”

The group doesn’t have any policy goals as of now, Ward said, but it will support the Governor Rick Snyder’s goal to reduce the state’s reliance on coal and increase its use of natural gas and renewable energy. One of its main goals, Ward said, is to re-frame the discussion around energy from a politically-charged debate to a discussion about economics, security, and environmental protection.

The group’s creation comes after Tea Partiers made headlines this summer by fighting for more access to solar energy in Georgia. Ward says he’s not surprised that more conservatives are speaking out about the need to diversify energy sources.

“If you ask conservatives, if you go out and poll them, you will find out that there is very strong support for renewable energies,” he said. “I think where some of the questions come in is how do you get there and what is government’s role in that — that’s a whole other subject. But just on whether there is an appetite out there? There’s a strong appetite. I certainly see this catching on and rolling out in other states.”