In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt addressed the nation’s governors with a call to consider impending challenges: “The time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted … if we do not exercise that foresight, dark will be the future!”
The Old Lion was a Republican, and the father of modern conservation. With Pennsylvania’s Gifford Pinchot by his side, Roosevelt established national forestry to preserve the country’s natural heritage. Teddy Roosevelt was also a man of the outdoors, a hunter, angler and explorer who did more than simply talk about conservation. Roosevelt lived it, even risking his life at the age of 55 to document the vital Amazon river basin.
Roosevelt’s passion to preserve and understand the natural resources that we cherish is remarkably relevant to the energy and conservation challenges of our time. Particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, when it is clear that human interaction with the untamed natural world must be tempered by reason.
As a conservative and lifelong Republican, I believe that political polarization is both reductive and exclusionary. Reductive, in that our debates have become trite and sloganeered. Exclusionary, as blue state voters have claimed the environment, and red state voters have claimed freedom from government intrusion. But the two are not mutually exclusive.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge understood that when he proclaimed, “It’s no longer jobs or trees, it’s jobs and trees!” I was there, working for Govs. Ridge and Mark Schweiker as a young college grad, as we implemented the Growing Greener initiatives and statewide recycling, among a host of other innovative ideas. The Pennsylvania leaders that I worked for believed, as Ronald Reagan said, “to be a conservative is to conserve.”
In energy, this is a vital calling for our time. Rather than leave the playing field to the left, Pennsylvanians like former Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, former Navy Secretary and 9/11 Commission member John Lehman, former state Rep. Tom Stevenson and former DEP Secretary Jim Seif created the Pennsylvania Conservative Energy Forum (PennCEF), an organization that I lead. We believe that renewables belong in our “all of the above” portfolio.
We believe in land rights, to allow hard-hit farmers to invest in energy on their land. We believe in economic development and national security through energy independence. We believe in Pennsylvania’s Republican-authored Community Solar bill, which — if passed — could bring up to $2 billion in new investment dollars. We believe in clean energy jobs, which stood (pre-covid-19) at 90,000-plus in the commonwealth, growing at 6% annually. We believe that most – if not all – of these jobs will return. And that they should return.
And, we believe in conservation.
In a recent – and stirring – call to action, Ridge noted that natural gas, nuclear and renewables should all be part of the mix. We agree. To that end, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) deserves our attention. The decision to make Pennsylvania an RGGI member has already been made, but there is still work to be done to maximize the potential benefits.
This initiative must be tailored to meet Pennsylvania’s specific needs and leveraged to create a fair playing field. RGGI efforts have already embraced coal waste reuse, and more could be done to help our miners and farmers who truly need assistance. We encourage our state policymakers to study Pennsylvania’s needs and take full advantage of this policy opportunity.
Investing in electric vehicle infrastructure is also a step in the right direction, as Republican state Sen. Bob Mensch’s bill proposes. EV infrastructure will create even more jobs, paving the way to recovery. PennCEF has stepped up to the plate to support this bill.
We believe that the future of the GOP is at stake, as millennials and other new voters ask us to do more. And we must do more, to preserve the future. As Teddy Roosevelt said in 1907, “We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so.”
Chad Forcey is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Conservative Energy Forum.