The GOP needs to embrace environmental issues and free-market solutions

  • Environmentalism has been dominated by negativity and partisan bickering.
  • That pushed the political right to dispute science and disregard many environmental problems.
  • The tone has to change. It's time for the GOP to embrace environmental issues and their free-market solutions.
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For far too long, environmentalism has been dominated by negativity, partisan politics, bickering, and divisive policies. It has been driven through fear by money-seeking and politically-driven individuals and groups. As a result, modern-day environmentalism has unfortunately pushed the political right to dispute science and disregard many environmental problems. The environment, however, should (and can) be the issue that brings Americans together during our current political divide.

For that to happen, the tone on environmental policy must change. Instead of telling Americans to change their way of life to help the environment "or else," we should be focused on the positives of being pro-environment.

Changing the focus to the economic benefits of a sound environment is a fantastic place to start. According to an Environmental Defense Fund report from July of this year, renewable energy is creating jobs 12 times faster than other sectors of the economy. Additionally, data presented by Morgan Stanley indicate that clean energy will be the most inexpensive form of energy worldwide by 2020. Despite the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, the same Morgan Stanley report projects that clean energy will allow the U.S. to meet the Accord's carbon emission reduction targets in just a few years.

"With big government as the only solution given recently for environmental problems, it's imperative that conservatives return to the table to discuss free market ideas."

Another important area of pro-environmental policy revolves around public lands. National Parks provided more than 300,000 jobs and visitor spending contributed 32 billion dollars more than $18 billion to the U.S. economy last year, according to the National Park Service. Outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, employs 7.6 million Americans and contributes $887 billion dollars to the U.S. economy, according to the Outdoor Industry Assocation. These are numbers that America's leaders should prioritize through providing technological incentives, funding backlogged maintenance projects, and protecting hunting/fishing rights.

Moreover, our nation's elected officials and political leaders should focus on the positive economic impact of pro-environmental policies.

With big government as the only solution given recently for environmental problems, it's imperative that conservatives return to the table to discuss free market ideas. While certain government-led policies have worked, many have failed. It is time that we entertain new solutions from a different perspective.

One example of a big government policy failing is the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Since its inception in 1973, a mere 1 percent of species have been removed from the list and only 8 percent have seen their populations improve. Part of the reason for this is "shoot, bury, and shut up," a reaction seen by private landowners across the country. Under the current ESA, when an endangered species is found on a private land, the landowner is subject to government-imposed regulations, contact, and management. As a result, private landowners are understandably fearful of losing their land, so they "shoot, bury, and shut up" when they find an endangered species. Since a majority of endangered species rely on private land for their survival, landowners should instead be rewarded and incentivized for protecting endangered species. In the coming months, Congress has the opportunity to pursue a massive reformation of the Endangered Species Act that protects private landowners and valuable species.

When it comes to clean energy, each energy sector currently has unequal tax breaks and subsidies. Unfortunately, well established and well connected traditional energies have lobbied the government to receive massive tax breaks, crowding out new clean energy technologies. If there is going to be government involvement in the energy sector, those sectors ought to be at a level playing field to let the free market run its course -- thus empowering consumers to find the most cost-effective form of clean energy. In short, reform should be sought to remove subsidies and equalize tax breaks.

Despite our recent abandonment of such free-market solutions, these types of policies have previously been successful. The Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA), passed in 1982 with bipartisan support, is a shining example. The CBRA, introduced by two Republican elected officials, focused on preserving coastal areas through local involvement even in times of disaster. Seen as widely successful, the CBRA has saved Americans at least 1.3 billion dollars through removing post-disaster government regulations funded through taxes. These are just a few examples of conservative policies that should be brought to the table and supported by Americans from across the political spectrum.

With a Republican-led Congress, conservatives have a chance to change the tone and unify the country behind the environment, and can concurrently bring new voices into the fold. In order to accomplish this, Republicans must step up and work across the aisle on this issue-- something that hasn't truly been done in decades.

Commentary by Benji Backer, a 19-year-old conservative activist from Appleton, Wisconsin, who attends the University of Washington-Seattle. He has spoken at CPAC, AFP's Defending the American Dream Summit, and many other national political events. He is the founder and president of the American Conservation Coalition, a millennial-led organization dedicated to giving conservatives a voice on the environment. Follow him on Twitter @BenjiBacker.

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