Jim DiPeso is communications director for Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP America), which works to make natural resource conservation and sound environmental protection fundamental elements of the Republican Party’s vision for America.

Monday, 15 Oct 2001

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.

It can be tough being the last speaker at a daylong conference. You have to approach your task with the attitude of the Jamaican bobsled team: since expectations are low, just relax and go with the flow. I was given the final slot at the annual conference of Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP America); it was a gorgeous fall afternoon, and the Carolina sun was dancing on a glassy blue Atlantic just outside the meeting room windows. My job was to keep the audience indoors and get them thinking about energy policy in the post-Sept. 11 environment.

Sound difficult? Actually, it wasn’t. The session was a success — not because of any scintillating oratory from me, but because REP America is filled with bright, creative people who take unexplored byways in thinking about public policy issues. By its nature, REP America attracts people who march to their own drummers. An organization for Republicans who care about environmental protection can be a difficult sell, for both party loyalists who dislike criticism of Republican leaders and for environmentalists who suspect greenscamming. Martha Marks, REP America’s national president, jokes that she’s head of the world’s funniest oxymoron.

REP America occupies a unique niche: advocating for conservation methods that fit with traditional Republican ideals of stewardship, heritage, efficiency, individual responsibility, and national security. REP has the credibility to deliver a message about energy policy that other conservation organizations may not have. We believe that using energy more efficiently, reducing petroleum dependence, and developing alternative energy sources are essential for protecting America’s national security. My job at the conference was to explain why.

The United States imports 56 percent of the oil we use. One out of every eight barrels of oil used in this country comes from the Persian Gulf. Dependence on Middle Eastern oil is a dangerous habit that forces the U.S. to spend $30 billion-$60 billion per year to protect vulnerable energy supply lines, puts U.S. troops in harm’s way defending distant oil fields, and forces the U.S. into alliances with unsavory and unstable regimes. Some of the dollars spent for Middle Eastern oil find their way into terrorists’ coffers.

Drilling the Arctic refuge would not significantly reduce oil imports and is unwise from a security standpoint anyway. Arctic refuge production would increase and prolong our dependence on an aging, remote pipeline that is difficult to defend. Earlier this month, an intoxicated shooter put a hole in the pipeline and shut down North Slope production for several days. Imagine what sophisticated terrorists could do. The only lasting energy security solution is a phased, orderly transition to new fuels — using energy more efficiently to begin with, and developing clean, domestic energy resources that are less vulnerable to disruption and attack, including fuel cells, solar, wind, and biomass.

My message to the conference seemed to go over well. There were a lot of good, penetrating questions about the energy choices facing America, both collectively and individually. (And I didn’t have to bring up the touchy issue of individual responsibility and driving SUVs, thanks to someone else who asked how many people in the room drove the big gas-guzzlers. More than a few hands went up. But not mine; I love my Honda Civic.)

In the wake of Sept. 11, the energy security angle is especially imperative and timely. Talking about energy policy from a security perspective fits well with the advice REP heard earlier in the day from our keynote speaker, Lamar Marshall, president of Wild Alabama. Marshall urged us to frame environmental issues in language that will resonate with the current concerns of your audience. That’s good advice for any conservation issue. In the coming months, you’ll be hearing more from REP America about energy security. Our message will be that energy efficiency is patriotic. After all, the greatest Republican conservationist of them all, Theodore Roosevelt, said in 1910: “Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of ensuring the safety and continuance of the nation.”