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Time for Republicans to show national leadership on clean energy

By Michele Combs

Earlier this year, men and women from across the country streamed into Washington, D.C. for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)—the largest gathering of conservatives in the United States.

These far-flung conservatives brought to the nation's capital a fresh perspective on a whole range of issues, especially on matters the Washington elite too often pigeonhole as right-versus-left issues.

Of course, everyone at CPAC is passionately interested in winning elections. But they are also focused on making a good living, taking care of their families, and building the communities they live in. And the view from the "Real America" is often starkly different from the view from Capitol Hill.

Take energy policy. Too often in Washington circles, it is framed as an issue pitting Democrats against Republicans. But it's not a conservative issue or a liberal issue. It's an American issue.

As president of Young Conservatives for Energy Reform (YCER), I have met with conservatives in state after state. Business owners, parents, community leaders, and others from every walk of life see policies that advance clean, efficient energy as essential to the Republican Party's future—and more importantly, to our country's future.

At YCER, we have seen in our own communities that diversifying energy sources creates local jobs that can't be exported and grows the economy. We are seeing cleaner air and healthier communities, which we embrace as being good for families.

We are also persuaded by military leaders who see reducing our nation's over-dependence on oil as a key strategy for strengthening national security. And we embrace the idea that families, businesses, and organizations like schools and churches should have the freedom to choose the kind of energy that works best for them.

States are far ahead of Washington on this issue. If you want to see what a clean and efficient energy future looks like, look to the states.

In my state, bright-red South Carolina, Boeing uses solar power to build planes, while BMW uses methane recovered from a landfill to make cars. On the drawing board: utility-scale offshore wind farms. A few months ago, legislators passed a bill expanding financial options and incentives for solar power, beyond our already successful tax credit.

And in the public sector, South Carolina is seeing the money-saving benefits of clean efficient energy, as well. Greenville County Schools put in an energy conservation and management program and are saving millions of dollars a year. Marines at Parris Island eat in a mess hall partially powered by solar panels, while their children attend a solar-powered child development center.

In terms of cold, hard political calculations, supporting clean and efficient energy is a winning issue. It attracts young people, and it matters more and more for the rest of society, as well.

And it's not just liberals who are interested. As the America Wind Energy Association has pointed out, most of our nation's wind energy capacity is located in congressional districts represented by Republicans. Look at South Dakota and Iowa, which now get more than one quarter of their electricity from wind power.

Conservative states are benefiting from clean energy. So is the rest of the nation.

Now is the time for Republicans to show national leadership on this winning issue. Let's show the American people that our party has real energy solutions that will help ensure a safer, stronger, and more prosperous nation for generations to come.

A former Chairman of the South Carolina Young Republicans and "Young Republican of the Year," Michele Combs is the President and Founder of Young Conservatives for Energy Reform. This column was originally published in "Breaking Energy" (breakingenergy.com/2015/02/24/listen-to-grassroots-conservatives-embrace-energy-reform).