'Gen X' group joins push from the right for action on renewables, efficiency

The growing clutch of conservative elder statesmen who have been calling for their ideological allies to take seriously the threat of climate change gained new support today from a group planning to organize younger Republicans in an effort to promote clean sources of energy and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

The new group, Young Conservatives for Energy Reform, launched today amid a presidential election season that has featured disputes over whether to worry about rising greenhouse gas emissions and how much government support should go to alternative energy sources like wind and solar. The group, whose founders boast links to the powerful Christian Coalition and Young Republican National Federation, hope to reverse the GOP's embrace of climate change skepticism and convince the party that there are conservative ways to wean the country off foreign oil and clean up its air and water.

Michele Combs, the new group's president, has worked for the Christian Coalition of America, of which her mother, Roberta Combs, is president. The coalition, a key pillar on the "religious right," has lobbied in favor of cap-and-trade legislation in the past and has said promoting renewable energy development and energy efficiency efforts are part of a "responsibility to care for God's creation."

Young Conservatives for Energy Reform points to calls from former President George W. Bush to address America's "addiction" to oil. The group bills itself as a network of "Generation X professionals" and plans to promote efficiency and domestically sourced alternative energy to boost national security and the economy while cleaning up the environment.

Michele Combs, 45, said the group is not weighing in on specific policies at this point, instead focusing on grass-roots efforts to educate activists and remove some of the stigma that can surround climate and clean energy issues in conservative circles.

While the group's focus tends more toward promoting new energy sources than combating climate change for its own sake, the issue should be able to garner more attention from Republicans, said Brian Smith, an Air Force veteran and the group's Midwest chairman. Smith personally endorsed the scientific consensus that climate change is real and its risks should be addressed.

"We want to talk about those risks and be able to do so without it being a litmus test on conservatism," Smith, 32, said on a conference call this morning.

The group aims to follow the Young Republicans model by establishing chapters in all 50 states and organizing grass-roots support for clean energy policies. Specific advocacy will come in the coming months, Smith said, as group members evaluate state-level efforts with an eye toward building on what has worked and eliminating what has not.

Combs said the group has held events in eight states so far, including Florida, South Carolina, Ohio and New Hampshire.

A number of prominent conservatives have recently come out in favor of doing something to address climate change, with the most prominent suggestion being a tax on carbon dioxide emissions that would be offset by reductions in income or payroll taxes.

Supporters of some variation of such a scheme include former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), who launched a new center to promote the idea at George Mason University, and George Shultz, who served as secretary of state in the Reagan administration. The American Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank, also recently convened a meeting of groups on both sides of the political spectrum to consider how such ideas could be turned into policy (E&E Daily, July 12).

While the novelty of conservatives caring about climate change has attracted quite a bit of attention during the past several weeks, the efforts still have something of a voice-in-the-wilderness feel to them. Denying the link between human activity and climate change has become the de facto position among a broad swath Republican lawmakers -- a shift from the days before 2008 when it was possible to find Republicans like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) backing cap-and-trade legislation.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also worked on a climate bill in 2009 and 2010 alongside Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), although he abandoned the effort before a bill was introduced, and the legislation never came to the Senate floor.

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