My Turn: Memo to Republicans – join the clean energy revolution

For the Monitor
Friday, September 30, 2016

Suppose you have been ingesting toxic substances for years and find yourself dangerously ill. Although you suspect the obvious, you decide to consult 100 qualified doctors for their opinion. Of those, 97 agree that your illness is caused by the toxins and urge an immediate change in diet. The remaining three are less sure, although they agree a change in diet wouldn’t hurt.

What do you do? If you value your health and life, you change your diet.

Now suppose your planet’s atmosphere has been receiving toxic emissions for decades and is becoming dangerously hot. About 97 percent of qualified climate scientists agree the build up of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, released by fossil fuels, is the primary cause. They prescribe an immediate change in energy diet to slow the pace of climate change and prevent melting ice caps, rising sea levels, and catastrophic weather events. Meanwhile, your state is still grappling with the worst drought and hottest temperatures on record, and economists estimate the total cost of climate change on the next generation at $8 trillion. What do you do?

If you are the Republican presidential nominee or a Republican politician funded by the fossil fuel industry, nothing.

At a gathering last week of top fossil fuel executives, Donald J. Trump proclaimed that he will scrap federal regulations designed to slow the pace of catastrophic climate change and usher in an open season on fossil fuel extraction. “Oh, you will like me so much,” he promised the executives, whose multinational corporations have already contributed a record $119 million to federal elections in 2016, 80 percent of it going to Republican politicians, on top of the $270 million they spent lobbying Congress last year.

Sadly, the problem does not end with Donald Trump and the Republicans in Washington.

The single largest fossil fuel contributor to political campaigns, Koch Industries, has trained its sights in 2016 on state races where it sees a strategic opportunity to block action on climate change and advance other anti-government priorities to pad its bottom line. Working through Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Kochs have spent undisclosed millions to support Republican candidates in New Hampshire and other states who deny climate science and tout their right-wing agenda of “right to work,” cutting government, and removing health insurance for 50,000 low-income Granite Staters under the Affordable Care Act.

For a troubling case in point, look no further than the two most senior Republican state officials, Executive Councilors Chris Sununu and David Wheeler. Although both men have seen the effects of climate change up close as the owner of a ski resort and Christmas tree farm, respectively, Councilors Sununu and Wheeler have used their position to block New Hampshire towns from installing solar arrays, at no cost to taxpayers, and rejected federal money to study commuter rail, the largest economic development opportunity in a generation.

The benefits of these programs extend far beyond addressing climate change. The Capitol Corridor Rail project to extend Boston commuter rail from Lowell to Nashua, Manchester Airport, and downtown Manchester, would transport an estimated 700,000 passengers north and south each year and add 5,600 permanent jobs to the New Hampshire economy. Not only that, the project would add approximately $750 million in new real estate development and bring in $174 million in federal construction investments to our state, a staggering return on the estimated $4 to 7 million per year total cost to Granite Staters.

Although Councilor Wheeler has based his reelection campaign on his opposition to the NED natural gas pipeline, he made a point of telling Nashua business leaders in 2014 that we would “find a way” to move the pipeline forward, thereby expanding our state’s reliance on fracked natural gas rather than clean renewables. Councilor Sununu, the Republican nominee for governor, has supported similar energy infrastructure projects like Northern Pass, which threatens our precious landscapes and vital tourism economy in its present form.

Instead of acknowledging climate science and allowing smart investments in renewable energy to grow our state economy, Councilor Wheeler and other Republican leaders have willingly taken the Koch brothers pledge, put forward by AFP, which refuses to accept the nonpartisan findings of 97 percent of climate scientists. Their policies impose staggering costs on future generations and do disservice to a proud Republican tradition of environmental stewardship in New Hampshire, dating back to the Weeks Act of 1911, in which I was raised. They also stand in stark contrast to the pro-growth, pro-environment policies advanced by Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, the Democratic nominee for governor, and other Democratic leaders.

For the sake of our people, our planet, and our economy, I urge Republican leaders to reclaim their party’s laudable tradition of conservation and join Democrats in making smart investments in a clean energy future.

(Dan Weeks, a Democrat from Nashua, is running for the Executive Council District 5 seat against Republican incumbent David Wheeler.)