Energy cronyism is not conservative

At the core of conservative ideology lies a fundamental belief: Government should refrain from picking winners and losers in the market. 

Yet recent headlines ignited concern as presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump reportedly pledged concessions to a room of oil executives in exchange for campaign contributions to the tune of $1 billion. Shortly after a campaign rally in New Jersey, the former president promised to end offshore wind “on day one” if he is reelected to the White House. From proposed rollbacks of environmental regulations to promises of curtailing tax incentives for electric vehicles, both capitalists and environmentalists have reason to take notice.

While overbearing environmental regulations, the merits of electric vehicles, and the trade-offs of different energy sources are all topics worthy of robust debate, those who issue their criticisms would do well to center their arguments on a crucial point: No amount of misguided policy justifies cronyism. 

Conservatives have long been accused of being in the pocket of so-called Big Oil for opposition to climate and environmental measures. And while it’s worth emphasizing that conservative climate engagement has increased in recent years, critics point to an all-of-the-above energy approach that favors fossil fuels rather than true neutrality.

While Trump’s recent comments undermine the conservative environmentalist cause, the increased engagement is noteworthy and has delivered several bipartisan climate wins. These wins underscore that conservative engagement on environmental issues is not only possible but popular. In fact, 68% of young conservatives would support a climate plan that balances economic and environmental concerns.

Conservatives must return to true small-government leadership, guided by market principles. Those who combat liberal big-government policies with corruption and cronyism have sacrificed our principles. Misguided, pay-for-play attempts to push back against an agenda we oppose not only undermine effective governance but also undermine the very ideals we purport to uphold. Instead, conservatives can champion a principled approach rooted in markets, competition, accountability, and innovation. 

We need a technology-neutral approach to climate solutions in which all options are on the table. This certainly doesn’t mean mandating electric vehicles or renewable energy like some would advocate, but it does mean not creating roadblocks for clean energy and other emissions-reducing technologies. Any form of a top-down approach that mandates or bans technologies should be outright dismissed. 

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The beauty of America’s climate approach thus far is that we have relied on market signals. Incentivizing cleaner behavior, not punishing industry and producers, will achieve economic and environmental balance. In fact, the United States has led the world in emissions reductions not due to heavy-handed mandates, but thanks to the shale revolution and a transition from coal to natural gas.

No matter what conservatives think about the Biden administration’s climate agenda, most should agree that exchanging industry handouts for campaign donations is not the America to which we should aspire. Combatting a liberal climate agenda is necessary, but not by abandoning conservative principles. We need a better climate agenda, not an embrace of cronyism.   

Danielle Butcher Franz is the chief executive officer of the American Conservation Coalition Action, the largest right-of-center grassroots environmental organization in the country. Follow her on X: @DanielleBFranz.

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