GOP: Green Old Party

Can Republicans lead on clean energy?

Colin Hannifin


Over the past several years, we’ve all been told again and again the same environmentally-themed message: global warming is not only a danger to our children’s world, but a very real danger of our own world, the answer lies within environmentally-friendly technology, and that a world of electric cars, solar panels and wind turbines is the best solution to our depleting oil reserves.

We’ve received this message from all sorts of sources: well-intentioned friends, environmental groups, even oil companies in their efforts to appear progressive and environmentally conscious. Certainly, a major source of this message has been the federal government, particularly from President Barack Obama.

Yet, for all the rhetoric and money being funneled to research in emerging “green” fields – like clean energy – millions are also still being directed to the big oil companies. These mixed signals impede progress, and the federal government needs to step up and truly invest in clean energy.

The oil industry has a long and rich history of subsidies from the U.S. government. While many today look on the subject with scorn, it was not always without reason. Most emerging energy technologies receive significant government help until they are able to function on their own as an industry. Before today’s advanced drilling and refining techniques, oil was not always such a profitable business because much of the oil was (and still is) located beneath the ocean.

Yet in this day and age, subsidies to big oil and gas companies seem ridiculous. Not only do these companies report staggering profit margins on their own, but they are also clearly drawing from an ever-depleting resource. They are not sustainable in the long run, even with government subsidies. You can’t run an oil company when the oil’s gone.

Meanwhile, clean, green technology appears to be the way of the future. Not only does the sun hold nearly limitless amounts of energy – if we could just find a way to capture it effectively – but wind and tidal energy are also abundant.

While it’s true that these technologies are not as developed as the oil industry, they will never get there without subsidies. As the apparent dominant energy source of the future, clean energy should be, by all rights, given the green light from the government.

Yet, the money and tax breaks stay in the pockets of the prosperous oil companies. This is partly because of drawn lines in the sand, politics as usual. In his State of the Union address, President Obama challenged Congress to cut the advantages for big oil and gas. Since then, Republicans and even some moderate Democrats have banded together to block oil-funding cuts.

While this is hardly surprising, the Republicans are turning down a golden opportunity. In the first two years of Obama’s presidency, they have effectively become the “party of no.” They were able to yield this title to a mid-term election win, as the Democrats held power in the White House and the two chambers of Congress. However, with Republicans now controlling the House of Representatives, it is their chance to show that they can work towards the clean energy future together with Democrats. They are unlikely to agree on many of the president’s policies, especially regarding spending and healthcare reform, but clean energy is a subject nearly everyone can agree on.

It remains to be seen if the Republicans will seize this opportunity. Every day they do not is a signal of remaining friendly with the deep pockets of oil lobbyists and the reinforcement of rejecting bipartisanship.

Not only is embracing clean energy technology vital to our society’s continued well-being, it could be a factor in the Republicans reclaiming the Senate or the White House.

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