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Pragmatic environmentalism needed in WA-08

It’s no secret that Washington is one of the most beautiful states in the union. With three iconic national parks and countless other natural resources, we have so much to be proud of and thankful for.

In the midst of a pandemic and national political turmoil, one thing all Washingtonians can agree on is that our natural world is something that must be treasured. Enjoying the outdoors is not only essential for our mental and physical health, but it’s also nonpartisan. With that logic, it’s clear that action on climate change and other environmental challenges should cut across party lines too.

The legacy of conservative leadership on environmental issues is strong in our state. People like U.S. Senator Slade Gorton and Governor Dan Evans prioritized what makes our state beautiful and used their offices to protect the special natural places in Washington without compromising their conservative principles.

In the last decade, we’ve seen massive politicization of climate change. One end of the political spectrum has repeatedly turned to alarmist rhetoric, the other to denial. In the end, nothing gets done. There is a better way: we can agree that climate change is a pressing challenge. We can then disagree on optimal solutions, making for a robust policy debate instead of petty arguments.

The right way forward is incentivizing deployment of renewable energy as well as clean, abundant nuclear energy, upgrading our outdated infrastructure, employing natural solutions, and engaging on the global stage. Market-based climate platforms, like the American Climate Contract, are essential guides for pragmatic, effective action on climate change. There’s not a single action we can take that will fix all of our environmental challenges, so it’s important that we look at climate change from a variety of angles.

With this in mind, Washington needs legislators who embrace pragmatism and avoid extreme rhetoric that only succeeds in causing alarm. Instead of avoiding these conversations because the loudest voices in the room are often also the most unreasonable, conservatives should engage and present our own realistic, yet effective, solutions. The best part? They don’t have to revolve around government action as the be all, end all.

What is especially promising in the fight against climate change is the power of the private sector. The government has its place, of course, but the real power comes from the market. For example, just recently, the first small commercial nuclear reactor plan was approved by the government. Without the innovation in the private sector, there wouldn’t have been a model for the government to approve. We have to lean into what makes this nation special and not stifle the innovation that got us to where we are today.

Specifically here in Washington, the energy efficiency sector employs more than 63,000, and the renewable energy industry employs 11,000. Our state already generates 66% of our electricity from hydropower. Much of that comes from right here in the 8th Congressional District’s Chelan PUD. With more innovation and development, this could be vastly improved. We won’t get there, though, with stifling regulation and top-down mandates. We must be bold and partner with the private sector to develop sustainable solutions instead of leaning continuously on the heavy hand of government.

We need legislators in Congress on both sides of the aisle who understand that reality so we can tackle one of the planet’s most pressing challenges for our future generations, for Washington and our entire nation. 

Jesse Jensen is running to represent Washington’s 8th Congressional District. Benji Backer is the founder and president of the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).

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