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College Republicans and Environment
March 13, 2007

Last week the Calvin College Republicans hosted a conservative advocate for an issue that is not typically associated with Republicans: environmental protection.

Robert Sisson, the mayor of Sturgis and the membership and development director of Republicans for Environmental Protection (see link in Resources box below), spoke to a small group of students in the Knollcrest Room at Calvin about the need for a conservative approach to environmental protection.

“It’s not just a liberal, granola, Sierra Club cause,” he said.

The Sisson talk is the kind of event the 250-member Calvin College Republicans are currently promoting said 2006-07 chairman Jared Rispens.

“This year, CCR leadership and I decided to focus on issues that weren’t considered mainstream, conservative Republican ideas, yet were part of the foundations of conservative and Christian thought," he said. "With this in mind, we set out to raise awareness and induce conversation about conservatives, for example, in the areas of social justice and environmental conservation. We hoped to bring in students who were unsure about the reconciliation of Christian and conservative ideas and to demonstrate the importance and urgency of preserving God's creation for future generations.”

Sisson's talk fit right into that criteria.


He talked about one characteristic response to his group’s name: that it's an oxymoron, and that Republicans don’t care about the environment.

"That’s not true,” he noted before giving students a brief history of the environmental records of several Republican presidents: Abraham Lincoln, who created Yosemite National Park; Ulysses S. Grant, who created Yellowstone; and Theodore Roosevelt, singled out by Sisson as the “godfather of conservation.”

Said Sisson: “He protected more land than any other human being in the history of the world has ever protected.”

Sisson also lauded Dwight D. Eisenhower, who created the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, and Richard M. Nixon, who created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed the Clean Water and Clean Air acts.

“Richard Nixon was one of the best environmental presidents we’ve ever had," he said, "Republican or Democrat."

Sisson also talked about the need of to reclaim the conservative environmental legacy in this era. Of attacks on environmentalism by conservative leaders such as radio personality Rush Limbaugh, he said simply: “That’s not conservatism. That’s capitalism.”

And he praised the efforts of Rev. Richard Cizik (currently under attack by evangelical leaders) for broadening the conservative agenda to include environmental issues.

Conservatives should develop an environmental conscience not only to get re-elected, Sisson said, but as an economic strategy. He noted that a source of abundant clean water is crucial to all kinds of manufacturing and that states south and west of Michigan lack that particular natural resource.

“We’re not preparing for 10 years from now when companies looking to relocate from down south are going to need clean water,” he said.

Sisson also worries that by the time his twins are grown, the Michigan climate will resemble that of a southern state.

“By 2050, my kids growing up on the Indiana border are going to have a lifestyle like in southern Georgia,” he said.

Indeed, while he is occupied with national issues like global warning and the protection from drilling of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Sisson claims that the environmental causes dearest to his heart are also those closest to his own backyard: the cleanup of the Kalamazoo River, the proliferation of invasive species in Michigan waters, and the preservation of the largest of those waters through the Great Lakes Restoration Act.

Republicans for Environmental Protection, which last year was recognized by the National Parks Conservation Association for its work preserving National Park Service management policies, has chapters in 11 states and members in 49, Sisson said.

“If you have cousins in North Dakota, let me know,” he quipped. Along with soliciting members, he urged those attending to get involved in efforts to protect and restore the environment.

Sophomore political science major Paul Gehm, thought Sisson’s message was a good one for a broader student constituency.

“I know a lot of times I’ve gotten into discussions with friends who care about the environment,” Gehm said. “They align themselves with moderates or democrats because this is their key issue. And with every other issue they line up with conservatives. I think it’s good to hear from the conservatives who are overlooked on this issue."

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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