Young, green conservatives aim to break ‘tree-hugger’ stereotype

Video package by LiLi Tan

WASHINGTON — Conservatism and conservation don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

That’s the message of Young Conservatives for Energy Reform, a new advocacy group aimed at influencing Republicans and getting conservatives to pay attention to the need for new energy policies — a topic former Gov. Mitt Romney hasn’t seemed eager to touch.

“Conservatives are all about conservation,” said Michele Combs, the organization’s founder. Combs cited Teddy Roosevelt, who established the first U.S. national parks, and Richard Nixon, who signed the Clean Air Act, as examples of Republican environmental leaders.

“I don’t consider myself an environmentalist,” she said emphatically.  “I just consider myself an American who cares about energy and cares about the environment and cares about the future of this country.”

To get support from more Republicans, Combs and her group have reframed environmental and renewable-energy advocacy as national security issues, and hopes it can earn bipartisan backing.

“To get energy legislation [passed], we’re going to have to have Republican support,” Combs, a 25-year veteran Republican activist, said.

Keya Chatterjee, director of international climate policy at the World Wildlife Fund, agrees that backing for energy reform has to come from across the political spectrum.

“I think the more the merrier,” she said. “We need all kinds of slices of America talking about this issue in their own way, in a way that resonates with their audience and in a way that helps people understand that there are lots and lots of solutions to this problem, and also lots of reasons that you should care about it.”

“Probably many of the things I would say would be wildly applauded by the environmental constituencies, [but] that’s not what it’s about,” said retired Marine Corps Gen. Richard Zilmer, who supports the use of green energy to help the armed forces become smarter, leaner and more lethal in the battlefield.

A report released by CNA Analysis & Solutions, a nonpartisan research group Zilmer advises, showed that a 15 to 20 percent reduction in oil consumption would lessen the impact of oil supply “shock” to the U.S. economy.  The report calls for a 30 percent cut in oil use.

But for Combs and the young Republicans, bipartisanship will have to wait until after the election. Combs supports Mitt Romney for president even though he has promised to increase domestic oil and gas production in order to make America more energy independent.

Romney’s first step is a good start, Combs said.

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