Despite all signs to the contrary, Trump voters hope the president will lead on clean energy

70 percent of Trump voters want clean energy to make America great again.

CREDIT: Gage Skidmore
CREDIT: Gage Skidmore

Angel Garcia, a 41-year-old attorney from the south side of Chicago, is as passionate about clean energy as he is about deep-dish pizza and the Chicago Bears. He fostered a love for the environment while hiking and camping as a Boy Scout, and he’s now a devoted crusader for renewables.

But he’s not a liberal climate hawk. He’s a “small-government, lower-taxes Republican.”

Angel Garcia. CREDIT: Angel Garcia.
Angel Garcia. CREDIT: Angel Garcia.

Garcia was once president of the Chicago Young Republicans. In 2012, he attended the GOP Convention as a delegate for Mitt Romney. He is a member of the clean-power advocacy group Young Conservatives for Energy Reform, which coordinates events with politicians and energy experts.

And last November, he enthusiastically pulled the lever for Donald Trump.

Creating middle class jobs, making American businesses competitive in the global economy, and protecting the borders were some of Trump’s plans to “Make America Great Again.” Garcia believes clean energy fits into this vision.

He’s not alone, either. According to a new report from Yale and George Mason universities, seven in 10 Trump voters support government research into clean energy and support tax rebates for consumers who buy solar panels and fuel-efficient cars. Slightly more than half of Trump voters want to end subsidies for fossil fuels.

CREDIT: Yale/George Mason University
CREDIT: Yale/George Mason University

Jobs and security

“Clean energy is about jobs, innovation, and national security,” Garcia said.

His views on clean energy are informed by the numerous three- and four-star generals who have warned against the security risks of climate change and emphasized the need to deploy renewables.

“They tend to move the needle more than politicians,” Garcia said. “It’s a national security issue. It’s not about saving the planet. Clean energy saves lives and soldiers’ lives.”

Garcia recalled hearing Gen. Richard Zilmer talk about the challenges of maintaining fuel lines in war zones. Convoys of fuel trucks are easy targets for enemy bombs and bullets. Daily shipments of fossil fuels put soldiers in harm’s way. When bases use solar panels or portable wind turbines instead of liquid fuel, they help keep Americans safe.

CREDIT: U.S. Marine Corps
CREDIT: U.S. Marine Corps

“The military is working to reduce their oil and gas footprint because militarily it makes sense,” Garcia said. “Lots of people lost family members and friends in Iraq. What price do you put on saving these lives?”

Garcia noted that many of his conservative friends and colleagues share his views, particularly veterans. Having seen the promise of renewables firsthand, they believe clean energy is key to economic growth.

“Nationally, this is an important issue that won’t go away,” Garcia said. “From an America First perspective, America will fall behind if clean energy is not a central part of our economy.” Garcia added that he would like to see a manufacturing plant in or near Chicago that makes parts for wind turbines or other clean-energy infrastructure.

A rendering of SolarCity’s gigafactory in Buffalo, New York. CREDIT: SolarCity.
A rendering of SolarCity’s gigafactory in Buffalo, New York. CREDIT: SolarCity.

The politics of clean energy

Garcia does not see conservatives as inherently hostile to clean energy. He pointed out that, in 2015, congressional Republicans voted to extend tax credits for wind and solar until 2020.

Last week, a group of Republican Party luminaries released a conservative carbon tax and dividend plan. Garcia says he supports the plan and hopes its authors will reach out to grassroots organizations like his.

“Groups like ours and the Christian Coalition have their back,” he said. “We’re their people.” He said many people in his social network voted for Trump and see clean energy as an opportunity for Americans.

Garcia also noted that at the state level, many Republican governors, including Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback have embraced wind and solar.

“It’s a non-partisan issue and these things have to be pushed to the forefront in a Trump administration,” said Garcia, “It’s the job of Republicans and conservatives that believe in clean energy to do that — people like me and our organization.”

According to Garcia, clean energy has gone mainstream, earning broad support across the political spectrum. Once the purview of tree-hugging coastal elites, cutting-edge clean-energy innovations like Tesla’s Model 3 are now seen by many as must-have consumer technology.

Tesla’s Model 3. CREDIT: Tesla.
Tesla’s Model 3. CREDIT: Tesla.

“It’s hip to believe in clean energy,” Garcia said. “We see that with electric cars. Five years ago, people were making fun of them and now they’re no joke. Even BMW is in on it. Tesla is like a young Apple, and everyone loves it. They’ve gone from niche to accepted.”

While Trump proposed policies that would stifle clean energy, Garcia thinks the president will come around, persuaded by the myriad benefits of wind turbines, solar panels, and electric cars. “The advantage with Trump is he’s not a politician,” Garcia said. “He does not have an agenda written in stone. With strong arguments, his mind can be changed.”

Garcia is not troubled by Trump’s tweets calling climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, his hollow promises to revive the flailing coal industry, his support for the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, his complaints about wind turbines near his Scottish golf course, or his pledges to roll back policies that have spurred the growth of clean energy.

“I think the wait-and-see attitude is best,” Garcia said. “The people he put in are people who will shake things up in Washington.”

Donald Trump on the campaign trail. CREDIT: Gage Skidmore
Donald Trump on the campaign trail. CREDIT: Gage Skidmore

When asked about Hillary Clinton’s detailed plans on clean energy — Clinton promised to install 500 million solar panels in her first term — Garcia said she was “not the right candidate for this time.” He was drawn more to Trump’s lofty promises of economic revival in America’s once-thriving industrial towns.

“It’s the economy, stupid,” Garcia quipped. “I want Main Street and Wall Street to do well. Illinois hasn’t been doing well for the last four to eight years. People are fleeing the state because the economy is bad. We’re losing companies, and small businesses are going to Indiana and Wisconsin.”

But despite supporting the carbon tax proposal, Garcia isn’t too concerned about the carbon crisis. While scientists overwhelmingly agree that humans are causing dangerous climate change, Garcia has doubts. “I believe climate change is happening, but I’m not sure the changes we make are substantial,” he said.

“Even if there were no climate change, I would push for clean energy,” Garcia said. “Clean energy can stand without climate change as a reason.”

Appeals to conservative values and goals may be more effective for clean energy proponents than pleas for climate action, with a Trump White House and Republican majorities in Congress, Garcia said.

Garcia believes that, as president, Trump will shake things up, blast through the partisan gridlock, and implement pragmatic solutions. Whether or not Trump will embrace clean energy to a significant degree, like many of his Republican supporters have, remains to be seen.

Laura A. Shepard writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture. You can follow her at @LAShepard221.