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Here Come the Green Conservatives (Shhh!)

A group of Michigan Republicans is pushing the state toward reliance on renewable energy sources, and away from coal. The Michigan Conservative Energy Forum, which is headed by the former political director of the state’s Republican Party, Larry Ward, is the latest piece of evidence that Democrats don't have a monopoly on environmentalism—and it could serve as a blueprint for Republicans in other states who see sound economics in green policies, even if they remain wary of the politics.

"For too long, we have allowed the energy discourse to be dominated by the left," Ward said. "Conservatives have sat on the sidelines for far too long.”

At the local and state levels, they’re increasingly getting up from their seats. Though the Michigan forum has yet to commit to a specific strategy, it has vowed to work with Republican Governor Rick Snyder to create an “all of the above” energy policy that invests in ever-more-affordable options like wind and solar. At a New Republic event with the Center for American Progress last week, two conservative mayors explained how they rebuilt their cities along sustainable lines. “We started to look at everything the city government did to see how we could do it in a better way, and part of doing it a better way is being more friendly to the environment,” said Jim Brainard, the mayor of Carmel, Indiana. Both professed confidence in the science that shows humans are warming the climate.

Earlier this month, Politico Pro’s Darren Goode amassed more examples:

In Appalachia, greens are banding together with the Tennessee Conservative Union to oppose mountaintop mining. In Georgia, the Sierra Club and Atlanta’s tea party have formed a Green Tea Coalition that is demanding a bigger role for solar power in the state’s energy market. Elsewhere, veterans of the George W. Bush administration are working with the Environmental Defense Fund on market-based ideas for protecting endangered species.

The Environmental Defense Fund, a prominent environmental think tank, told Goode its political arm is considering giving donations to Republicans it sees as amenable to its goals (though only in races where there’s no hope of a Democratic pick-up). “This is not about taking out the bad guys. This is about helping the good guys and creating a deeper bench of environmental champions in both parties,” said EDF’s Tony Kreindler. “We’re going to be actively engaged in this electoral cycle building allies with conservatives in the Republican Party.”

In Ohio, the issue of renewable standards has divided the GOP. In 2008, every state Republican lawmaker but one voted for energy efficiency mandates under which utility companies subsidize consumers’ and industry’s efforts to go green. This fall, a conservative senator from Cincinnati tried to gut the existing law—jeopardizing the state’s nascent wind industry—only to drop the bill after pushback from trade groups and his own party as well as the other side.

In Goode’s analysis, the willingness to cross party lines “is not yet a broad national trend, and may not be enough to begin dampening Washington’s bitter left-right split over President Barack Obama’s environmental policies.” And though the Michigan group is a step, it‘s a tentative one. MLive reports, “While they acknowledged the environmental argument for supporting renewable energy, it's not a focus of the group.” Instead, “Members of the newly formed conservative group said they support increased renewable energy for reasons of faith, economic, national security, health and public policy.” In other words, they're still avoiding the issue of climate change. But at least they're getting a little warmer.

Image credit: Random House.