A motorist prepares to pump gas Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Portland, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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Cody Porter is the chair of the Maine College Republicans.

As the chair of the Maine College Republicans, my job is to recruit and mobilize young conservatives across our state, register first-time voters and help Republican candidates win elections. Successfully achieving this goal means being innovative. Public attitudes and priorities frequently shift, and it is essential that the GOP offers the next generation of conservative leaders an inspiring message and new opportunities to make a lasting difference in our country.

The latest example of this ”innovation” may actually surprise you.

While climate change may be viewed by some as a single-party issue, the reality is quite different. More than  half of Maine’s Republicans are in favor of climate action, and among young GOP voters generally, support for environmental solutions exceeds 80 percent. 

These figures paint a compelling picture on their own. However, being a field organizer for the Maine GOP has taught me that changes in public opinion start at the grassroots level, and oftentimes, it is impossible to ascertain the whole story without listening to the actual voices on the ground. Well, over the past year, these conversations have told me everything else I needed to know.

At the University of Maine, our College Republicans chapter quadrupled in size during the 2020-21 academic year, while unprecedented circumstances caused steep declines in membership among other groups on campus. While a variety of factors were certainly at play, a key part of this engagement was highlighting to students how conservative principles can solve climate change — and more effectively than proposals that the left is offering.

The conservative solution we’ve focused on is the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan: the free-market approach to curbing carbon emissions, and the most fair and effective tool in our country’s arsenal when it comes to protecting our environment. Rather than letting government bureaucrats pick winners and losers, the plan utilizes market incentives and gives businesses, big and small, the freedom to make their own decisions.

In addition, Baker-Shultz’s border carbon adjustment would level the playing field for our businesses and unleash America’s carbon advantage against foreign manufacturers, giving the U.S. a competitive edge over countries like China, Russia and India. What’s more, the wholesale nature of this market-driven approach would allow us to roll back unnecessary regulations while still delivering even better environmental protection.

In conversations with the leadership of other College Republicans chapters across the state, the support for this plan has been unanimous. No doubt, much of the reason that conservation is such an outsized issue for young Maine Republicans is that we have had a tireless champion for the environment in the U.S. Senate for the better part of 25 years: Sen. Susan Collins. Her leadership on climate stands out amongst both parties, and has provided a shining example of a conservative approach to conservation.

This approach allows us to ensure that gains for the environment do not come at the cost of already hardstruck families in Maine. During my time as a field staffer with the Republican National Committee, I saw firsthand the many challenges those living in our second congressional district contend with every day — they simply cannot afford more bad ideas from Washington.

Fortunately, with the Baker-Shultz solution, the revenue from the carbon price would be returned directly back to each family in the form of quarterly checks, ensuring that Mainers have the money in their pockets to fully cover any increases in energy costs, and experience the benefits of moving to a clean energy economy. In fact, the bottom nine out of 10 Mainers would be left with even more money after the fact. I’m confident we all have something important we know we would be able to put that towards.

Protecting Maine’s natural beauty means so much to me and the rest of Maine’s young conservatives. Politically, leading on climate is a generational opportunity for the GOP to win back young voters by solving one of their most important issues. It is our way of preserving “the way life should be.”

At the end of the day, a plan like Baker-Shultz is proof that we can make American policymaking work for people again, and that conservative principles should lead the way.

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