Jonathan Adler had an interesting article on NRO yesterday tackling Republican attitudes toward environmental and energy policy.  The column was spawned from recent comments South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford made about conservatives needing to “reshape” the climate change debate and provide positive, free-market solutions.  The climate change debate, says Sanford, isn’t going anywhere and Republicans need to get involved in the debate before it becomes too late and the only options include massive government regulations that would stifle economic growth.  Adler is supportive of the idea of conservatives getting involved in the debate, as long as they don’t become Al Gore lite. 

First, a side note on politicians’ favorite energy product, ethanol:

“There are many firms and industries that can benefit from government subsidies, market-distorting regulations, technology mandates, and other government interventions. Yet these sorts of regulations rarely make for sound environmental policy. Exhibit A is the political push for expanded use of ethanol and other biofuels. If these energy sources made economic sense, they would not need government assistance, and their environmental benefits are much less than most politicians suggest.”

Second, a side note about the 2008 elections:  Adler only makes a brief mention of the 2008 elections, but it’s worth noting that free-market environmentalism plays well in the West, which is increasingly a battleground of electoral politics.

Back to the larger debate, Adler writes:

“If conservatives wish to get serious about the issue of climate change they need to do more than embrace the agenda of green business interests or defend the status quo. They need a positive agenda that both recognizes the risks of climate change, but also the risks of ill-conceived climate change policies. Rushing headlong toward costly emission caps is as bad an idea as burying one’s head in the sand.

“A list of specific policy proposals a conservative could endorse in good conscience would include the following: End government policies that subsidize inefficient energy and resource use; End government programs that encourage excess energy use and subsidize vulnerable development; Encourage innovation by removing barriers to technological development and deployment; Replace market-distorting subsidies with prizes for specific types of major innovations; Create international institutions that can facilitate technology proliferation to encourage less carbon-intensive economic development in poorer nations.”

Read the whole article here.