Young Conservatives for Energy Reform
Conservatives are championing approaches to energy that tackle what George W. Bush called, "America's oil 'addiction."
Taking a clear-eyed look at the nation's energy needs, Young Conservatives for Energy Reform (YCER) is advocating a "Made in America" approach, using US technology, skills, and resourcefulness.
Starting with local receptions and rallies -- eight so far and five planned for the coming months -- 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 'Young Republican of the Year' from South Carolina, is an articulate and personable spokesperson for YCER. She became concerned when, as a mother-to-be, she found that there were some fish she shouldn't eat due to pollutants in the water. Energy production uses -- and then discharges into rivers, streams and oceans -- 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 -- affecting our air and water quality, according to US Energy Information Administration (EIA). "We all want clean air and water," she said. For Ms. Combs, fair and free markets are the fastest route to reducing oil dependence. She noted that some of the policies that could be advocated by YCER are sometimes thought of as "kind of left wing," 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. Combs' thoughts. He is troubled by foreign oil, which is still imported to the tune of around $1 billion per day.
"Some say drilling here is the answer, but that won't solve the long term problem," he said. He supports an approach to energy based on alternative resources 'in our own back yard'. "Invest here, locally," he said. "I believe we need to work across the aisle because that's what Americans want."
Brian Smith'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, addressing urgent battle-field problems. Young soldiers were dying on roads mined with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Mr. Smith's group was looking not at how to better armor trucks, but to "protect men from dying by keeping them off the road in the first place." 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. Smith'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 knowledgeable about the renewable industry, seeing some sectors -- such as solar -- that he believes are ready to scale. Scale in renewables means they can produce a significant amount of energy at a price that is competitive with fossil fuels.
"On energy independence there is broad consensus," he said. "On the climate change front, I believe there is sufficient evidence to have that [climate change] conversation."
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 "Show those inside the beltway what people outside the beltway are really thinking."
Like Brian Smith, who has been politically active most of his life -- working on Presidential candidate John McCain's campaign as an advisor -- Ms. Combs worked with Lindsay Graham, from whom she learned a lot. "He tried to break that divide," she said. "He's a hero for our side." The long term goal will be to develop policies 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 national congressional level.
Mr. Smith concluded our conversation by saying, "I'm just trying to make a difference."