Republicans and environmentalists seem to make strange
bedfellows, but it was not always this way, says Martha Marks,
leader of the self-proclaimed “environmental conscience of
the GOP.”

At a talk last night titled “Conservation Is
Bipartisan,” Marks, founder and president of REP America, and
Joe Schwarz, a Republican congressional candidate from Michigan,
spoke on the role Republicans should play in the environmental
debate.

“Young adults have no memory of the time when Republicans
signed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered
Species Act, and the National Environmental Protection Act into
law,” Marks said, referring to acts passed in the 1970s.

She cited former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Richard
Nixon, as well as former senator Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) as
members of an environmentally friendly Republican party. She said
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Schwarz, a former state senator are
current leaders.

“Many young adults think that if you care about the
environment, you’re supposed to be a Democrat, and that you
can only care if you’re a Democrat … There is nothing
more conservative than conservation,” Marks said.

Conservation is the rallying cry of organizations like REP
America, but they share many positions with more left-wing
environmental groups. REP has been outspoken on global warming
issues, and in 2001 opposed President Bush’s appointment of
Gale Norton, who held some controversial views regarding pollution,
to secretary of the interior.

The League of Conservation Voters commended Schwarz for his work
concerning mercury levels, an issue that conservationists and
environmentalists were united over due to the implications for
fishing and air pollution.

“I feel so strongly that I want to live, and I want my
grandchildren to live in a place that they are proud of (and) where
they are proud of their elected officials,” he said. He urged
students and young people to put their names on the ballot and get
involved in local politics.

Students in the audience responded to the bipartisan message.
“I think that it’s stupid … that if one party is
for something, the other party has to be against it,” SNRE
senior Tim Reynolds said. “It doesn’t need to be a
partisan issue.”

Commenting on the lack of conservatives in the audience, Marks
attributed it to the reputation of environmentalists as
“liberal wackos.”

“One reason it’s a lot of Democratic students who
are here is that they have only known Democratic leadership. If you
look at a local level, you’ll see a lot of Republicans taking
leadership on environmental issues,” said University alum
Noah Hall, a Republican.

Steve MacGuidwin, chair of the College Republicans, was not in
attendance but said Republican leadership on the issue is
lacking.

“We don’t have a Goldwater, we don’t have a
really strong leader on the environment in Washington,” he
said.

For many supporters, Schwarz represents a passionate minority in
the Republican party. “We want to highlight these people
… who are leading the charge,” said Joy Strawser of
the League of Conservation Voters.

The League co-sponsored the event with the Michigan Student
Assembly’s Environmental Issues Commission, Students for the
Public Interest Research Group In Michigan and Project
Democracy.

After the event, Sharon Renier, the Democrat running for the
same seat as Schwarz and an organic farmer, expressed concern in an
email that despite the bipartisan theme, she was not invited to
speak.

Ellen Kolasky, co-chair of the MSA EIC, said the event was meant
to be a counterpart to the U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and
state Sen. Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor) last weekend.

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