Clean energy conservatives can embrace

5 December 2009

By James Murdoch
Chairman and Chief executive, Europe and Asia, News Corporation
Op-ed, Washington Post

Conservatives champion the essential characteristics of America: liberty, enterprise and ingenuity. As world leaders consider how to transform the way we make and use energy in the face of a changing climate, it's time for an energy policy true to that spirit -- and it shouldn't be anathema to the American right.

Conservatives have a robust tradition of principled concern for the environment. It was, after all, Teddy Roosevelt who created five national parks and signed the Antiquities Act. It was Richard Nixon who established the Environmental Protection Agency, and George H.W. Bush who ushered in one of the greatest environmental success stories, the 1990 cap-and-trade plan to take on acid rain.

Today, Americans of all political persuasions want to see their country on a path toward an economy powered by energy that is clean, safe, secure and stable. With climate legislation pending and a binding global treaty being negotiated, conservative leadership is critical because the only way to get the job done is with broad bipartisan agreement.

How can they do it? By establishing a Red-Blue-Green agenda on whose principles conservatives, Democrats and independents can all agree. Which Americans would argue against energy that meets the following principles:

  • Freedom from national insecurity. The Western world's dependence on oil means transferring billions of dollars to nations whose interests are at odds with democratic ideals. This makes for geopolitical instability and forces the United States to compromise its role as a beacon of freedom just to secure traditional fuels. 
  • A return to economic strength. Ultimately, the question is: Which countries will lead the world to a clean-energy future -- and reap the benefits? The United States is already falling behind. It has lost its dominance in solar manufacturing and ranks 22nd in energy efficiency. The Chinese market for clean tech is forecast to grow to as much as $1 trillion per year. America cannot afford to cede new markets and the jobs they create without even trying. 
  • New employment, with lower long-term costs. Much of the U.S. debate focuses on the short-term costs associated with the transition to a clean-energy economy without considering its long-term benefits or calculating the costs of continuing business as usual. The wave of innovations around clean energy will not only create new industries and jobs but also allow businesses to have increasingly efficient - and therefore more profitable - operations.
  • Cleaner, healthier communities. Republicans once played a leading role in cleaning up our air and water, and conservatives of all stripes should champion that role again. The manufacturing booms that built cities such as Detroit and Cleveland left environmental degradation in their wake. Good climate legislation will bring jobs back to hard-hit areas, but this time factories will not pollute the groundwater or make the air unsafe to breathe. 
  • Competition trumps regulation. A sensible clean-energy policy should free, rather than constrain, markets. Smart policy corrects market failures and provides certainty, stimulating investment in the technology and infrastructure necessary to build an economy based on clean energy. Washington must ensure that such investment will be rewarded. The government shouldn't "pick winners" - it should unleash competition, ensuring that the cleanest businesses thrive and the dirtiest are held accountable. A well-crafted federal law to limit pollution is better than unfettered regulation by the EPA or ever-changing regulation by the states. 

The seeds of these opportunities have already been planted. And companies that have taken the lead are prospering. At News Corporation, we have saved millions by becoming more energy-efficient, overhauling a range of systems from the production of such shows as "American Idol" and "24" to energy usage in our buildings around the world. This has yielded savings that help us invest more in talent and has inspired us to look for further opportunities to improve.

You do not need to believe that all climate science is settled or every prediction or model is perfect to understand the benefits of limiting pollution and transforming our energy policies -- as a gradually declining cap on carbon pollution would do. This is the moment to champion policies that yield new industries, healthy competition, cleaner air and water, freedom from petroleum politics and reduced costs for businesses.

Through market-based incentives we can achieve clean energy at the lowest cost and with the strongest incentives for innovation - ensuring that the energy solution will help, not harm, the economy. Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) get this and are working across party lines to build support for new legislation. Previously conservation-minded conservatives are missing in the heated partisanship of today's politics. It's time they found their voice again.

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