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Some Republicans discover lure of green


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It’s not easy being green. But being green and a Republican might be becoming easier.

At a campaign event in Coralville on Wednesday, Terry Branstad, a former Iowa governor vying for the office again, touted his environmental record.

The environment has long been a salient campaign item in state and national elections. While Democrats have traditionally monopolized the subject, efforts have been more collaborative recently, some observers said.

“I think traditionally it has been more of a rallying point for Democrats,” said Jerald Schnoor, a UI engineering professor who has worked on various environmental-policy projects. “However, there’s a been realization … that they do have to work together.”

Jim DiPeso, a spokesman for Republicans for Environmental Protection, said conservatives have started to identify the economic benefits of environmentally friendly policy.

“When you talk to just average people and ask them, ‘When they think about energy, what concerns you?’ They’re excited about creating jobs based on alternative energies,” DiPeso said. “They can bring jobs and income to rural communities.”

Iowa’s 2010 gubernatorial election is unique because both Gov. Chet Culver and Branstad — who will need to defeat two other Republicans in a June primary in order to take on Culver in November — have records to cite. Both men say their environmental records are unpolluted.

Branstad on Wednesday highlighted the need to connect green innovations with economic growth. While he was governor from 1983 to 1999, he said, he pushed growth in the biofuels to help create jobs.

“We need to make sure what we’re doing is sustainable in the long term and look at what the payback is going to be,” he told The Daily Iowan after his address.

Culver’s administration established the Iowa Power Fund, a $100 million research venture aimed at exploring energy technologies. Those investments have been used to leverage federal and private funds totaling more than $100 million, according to Culver’s campaign.

Both parties are eager to tout Iowa’s position in renewable energies. A slew of environmental groups and organizations say Iowa is among the top for production of biodiesel, ethanol, and wind energy.

Outside Iowa, energy issues are getting much attention on the national scene lately as well: Three prominent U.S. senators — a Democrat, Republican, and independent — hope to unveil landmark climate-change legislation early this summer, and President Obama visited Iowa Tuesday to promote “green job” creation.

DiPeso dismissed criticism that federal environmental reform is emblematic of a national government wielding too much power.

“The government should do what the private sector doesn’t do well, like setting the rules of the game,” DiPeso said, noting that traditional industries also receive government assistance. “It’s not so much the absolute size of government but what should government do and what should government not do.”

Schnoor agreed that while state governments often initiate reform, the discussion in Washington, D.C., is also important.

“It’s not just political,” he said. “Environmental issues are important and real.”

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