Conservatives are championing approaches to energy that tackle what George W. Bush called, â€œAmericaâ€™s oil â€˜addiction.â€
Taking a clear-eyed look at the nationâ€™s energy needs, Young Conservatives for Energy Reform (YCER) is advocating a â€œMade in Americaâ€ approach, using US technology, skills, and resourcefulness.
Starting with local receptions and rallies â€” eight so far and five planned for the coming months â€” YCER was founded on a belief in the power of grass roots organizations. YCER President, Michele Combs, who is also active in the Christian Coalition, wants YCER to both listen and engage. The group is starting with chairs in Florida and the Midwest, and planning to expand from there.
- Florida State YCER Chairperson Juan C. Lopez-Campillo, Attorney with the Orlando office of Jackson Lewis, LLP
- Midwest YCER Chairperson Brian Smith, Former investment banker and graduate student at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Ms. Combs, a former â€˜Young Republican of the Yearâ€™ from South Carolina, is an arÂticulate and personable spokesperson for YCER. She became concerned when, as a mother-to-be, she found that there were some fish she shouldnâ€™t eat due to pollutants in the water. Energy production uses â€” and then discharges into rivers, streams and oceans â€” 27% of the water used in the US, according to Electric Power and Research Institute (EPRI). Energy production also emits over 40% of the CO2 â€” affectÂing our air and water quality, acÂcording to US Energy Information Administration (EIA). â€œWe all want clean air and water,â€ she said.
For Ms. Combs, fair and free markets are the fastest route to reducing oil dependence. She noted that some of the poliÂcies that could be advocated by YCER are sometimes thought of as â€œkind of left wing,â€ but likened the future of energy reform to the bans on tobacco, which are now broadly accepted in spite of a rocky start.
Juan Lopez, the Florida state chair, echoed Ms. Combsâ€™ thoughts. He is troubled by foreign oil, which is still imported to the tune of around $1 billion per day.
â€œSome say drilling here is the answer, but that wonâ€™t solve the long term problem,â€ he said. He supports an approach to energy based on alternative resources â€˜in our own back yardâ€™. â€œInvest here, locally,â€ he said. â€œI believe we need to work across the aisle because thatâ€™s what Americans want.â€
Brian Smithâ€™s passion was literally forged in fire while at an Air Force Research Lab, where he focused on energy-related technologies. He found himself on special assignment to the Army in the Middle East, adÂdressing urgent battle-field probÂlems. Young soldiers were dying on roads mined with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Mr. Smithâ€™s group was looking not at how to better armor trucks, but to â€œprotect men from dying by keeping them off the road in the first place.â€
The low-hanging fruit was the over two million gallons of fuel traveling daily to equip forward bases with energy for cooling, transportation and other vital needs. Since simply sending less fuel would compromise the task, Mr. Smithâ€™s team looked at US based technologies that could deliver energy deployed locally, which would significantly reduce the fuel traveling on trucks along dangerous roads. While researching and implementing new strategies, he got a crash course in energy production and management
He came back to the United States and joined Arsenal Venture Partners, the venture capital arm of the Army. While there he became knowlÂedgeable about the renewable industry, seeing some sectors — such as solar — that he believes are ready to scale. Scale in reÂnewables means they can produce a sigÂnificant amount of energy at a price that is competitive with fossil fuels.
â€œOn energy inÂdependence there is broad consensus,â€ he said. â€œOn the climate change front, I believe there is sufficient evidence to have that [climate change] conversation.â€
As for YCER plans, they are talking with local communities about energy reform and how people are affected on a daily basis. YCER plans to identify the people who care about this issue, energizing them to expand their numbers.
As Ms. Combs explained, YCER can â€œShow those inside the beltway what people outside the beltway are really thinking.â€
Like Brian Smith, who has been politically active most of his life — working on Presidential candidate John McCainâ€™s campaign as an advisor â€” Ms. Combs worked with Lindsay Graham, from whom she learned a lot. â€œHe tried to break that divide,â€ she said. â€œHeâ€™s a hero for our side.â€
The long term goal will be to develop poliÂcies and to advocate for them on Capitol Hill. However, the next six months will be focused on understanding what people really want and which state policies could be brought to the naÂtional congressional level.
Mr. Smith concluded our conversation by saying, â€œIâ€™m just trying to make a difference.â€