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Come September, GOP convention may go much ‘greener’ than the party will

2004 GOP convention
REUTERS/Lisa Miller
The Republican National Convention in St. Paul this summer should have all the hoopla but less trash and more environmental consciousness than the party’s 2004 New York convention shown here.

Although the big drama surrounding the party’s presidential nominee is over, there will be plenty for the Republican delegates to haggle over when they arrive in St. Paul for this summer’s national convention.

One of the biggest battles will be how Republicans should address environmental issues in the party platform, especially on the topic of global warming.

Sen. John McCain’s acceptance of the fact that global warming is real, and man-made, causes the blood pressures of many in the party to rise. In addition, there’s the deeply held belief among significant numbers of Republicans that environmental regulations and mandates do harm to the most important climate of all, the economic climate.

These potentially divisive environmental debates will be held in a “green” convention hall.

As they argue, delegates will be standing on “green” carpeting, made of recycled materials. Emotional delegates will be cooling off with swigs of water from bottles that are made from petroleum-free containers. They’ll walk past booths and staging constructed from Minnesota wood cut from “sustainable” forests.

They’ll even have the opportunity to ride environmentally friendly bicycles from their hotels to the convention hall if they want to minimize their carbon footprints on the Twin Cities.

GOP convention turns to DFL ex-official for help
“From the time they leave their home cities, to the time they return, we want to make this the greenest convention possible,” said Mark Andrew, a former DFL Party chair and Hennepin County commissioner, whose company, GreenMark, has been charged with keeping the convention green.

Andrew’s contract came through the nonpartisan Host Committee, not the Republican Party. The Host Committee is responsible for raising — and spending — the $60 million necessary for putting on the event, not the substance of the convention.

But Republicans, perhaps rightfully, see snobbery in even the suggestion that there’s irony in the fact their convention will be so green that even hotels and restaurants will be asked to compost their wastes during the four-day gathering.

Matt Burns is the communications director for the convention’s Committee on Arrangements, the Republican body responsible for working on what happens inside the convention hall.

“The Committee on Arrangements established very early that we want to host as environmentally friendly a convention as possible,” Burns wrote in an email response to questions about the green convention. “Republicans, like all Americans, support responsible stewardship of the land. In addition to this issue, we’re also focused on reducing the size of government, keeping taxes low, promoting individual responsibility and freedom and keeping our nation secure.”

Environmental stand leaves lots of room for debate
That is a response loaded with the caveats that leave plenty of room for debate over how big a priority the environment should be.

Certainly, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty learned at a meeting of the National Governors Association last week in Washington that even mild green proposals can be hazardous to political health.

As reported by the Washington Post’s Robert Novak, Pawlenty’s efforts to get the governors to set goals for lowering carbon dioxide emissions was slapped down by governors from oil- and coal-producing states. By daring to raise the issue, Pawlenty likely hurt his own chances of ending up as McCain’s running mate.

Mark Andrew
Mark Andrew’s GreenMark has been hired to help make the GOP convention the most environmentally friendly one yet.

Mitch Pearlstein, founder and president of the Minneapolis-based conservative think tank Center of the American Experiment, is in a position to understand the Republican dance around things environmental. His organization and the Illinois-based Heartland Institute are co-sponsoring the 2008 International Conference on Climate Change, which ends today in New York. The conference title — “Global Warming: Truth or Swindle” — tells you all you need to know about conservative skepticism about whether climate change is a man-made crisis or a natural cycle.

“I was not fond of the word ‘swindle,’ ” Pearlstein said of the title.

In addition, Pearlstein’s center will feature economist Margo Thorning at a Thursday luncheon at the University Club in St. Paul. Thorning specializes in putting price tags on all green regulations.

Just about everyone willing to go partly ‘green’
Like aspects of affirmative action, Pearlstein said, there are portions of environmentalism that are now embedded in the culture across the political spectrum. Without accepting the concept of quotas, most organizations and businesses now understand the importance of diversity, he said. Similarly, Pearlstein said, without embracing all green ideas, most accept fundamentals of good environmental stewardship.

“Sometimes, it just takes a prudent use of language,” Pearlstein said. “A gentle switch from the term ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’ allows some on the right to embrace certain ideas. Just about everyone is seeking to do something prudent in regards to conservation or the environment.”

Most conservatives, Pearlstein said, can understand the idea of moving toward alternative fuels in the name of national security, if not in the name of climate change.

Andrew, who as a politician resided on the left end of the DFL spectrum, certainly is not looking to pick a fight with Republicans on environmental issues.

“Regardless of your view on global warming,” said Andrew, “there’s not an American who wouldn’t celebrate energy independence and job creation.”

He believes this venture can show that “green” is good business.

Certainly, he is trying to establish it as a business for himself. Andrew, who set up GreenMark, 13 months ago, is working especially hard to “green” sports events. He’s consulted with both the Twins and the University of Minnesota in building “green” stadiums, and he’s working with sports super-agent Leigh Steinberg to expand both the message and his business.

But for now, there’s the convention.

“The Host Committee insisted that what we’re doing is not just window dressing,” Andrew said. “When this is done, we intend to have demonstrable results.”

Convention to mix ‘green’ tangibles, intangibles 
There are the tangibles: non-plastic banners, soy-based inks, paper plates that bio-degrade in 30 to 90 days, more energy-efficient lighting at the Xcel Energy Center, less paper and more online communications with delegates.

And then there are intangibles.

The biggest — and most experimental — part of GreenMark’s task will be an effort to measure the millions of tiny carbon footprints created by each of the 45,000 people expected to be either directly, or indirectly, involved in the convention. The bottom line is to make this event carbon neutral.

The most obvious way to make this happen, of course, is through conservation;  minimizing the amount of waste, thus minimizing the size of the carbon dioxide footprint in the first place.

But the event can’t be totally green. Using standards set by the Greenhouse Gases Protocol, GreenMark will have analysts who measure the greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide and five other gases — created by the convention.

It gets trickier.

GreenMark hopes to sell a sponsorship to some corporation that will purchase the credits for the amount of greenhouse gasses created by the convention. There is a fledgling market for these credits — they’re bought and sold on the Chicago Climate Exchange — but Andrew says the real value for a corporation is in the advertising and marketing area.

A corporation, he said, can show its environmental goodness by being a green sponsor. Not only would such a company be able to say, “We bought the bad stuff” but it could so something like plant trees to show how it offset  any of the environmental negatives of a huge event.

“This becomes a showcase of how to create a carbon neutral event,” said Andrew. “There’s great marketing potential in something like this.”

There’s hope that even individuals will have a chance to play the greenhouse gas-free game. For example, a delegate who takes a flight from St. Louis to the Twin Cities might have a chance to swipe a credit card in a machine dedicated to paying for carbon dioxide used. In this case, the St. Louis delegate would pay for his or her carbon dioxide usage on the flight.  That cost would be around a dollar.

Europe is ahead of the United States in all of this.

“But it’s the future, and it’s a developing market,” said Andrew.

“Market.” Now there’s a word Republicans at this green convention might be able to sink their carbon footprints into.

Doug Grow, a former metro columnist for the Star Tribune, writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 03/04/2008 - 01:12 pm.

    The American Lung Association of Minnesota is part of a work group focusing on this issue. We will help RNC goers find mass transit, alternative fuels such as E85 and biodiesel and other options to reduce air pollution.

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