By Julie Thibodeaux     

Many people think of environmental issues as being the exclusive territory of the left. However, the environmental movement has proponents from both sides of the aisle. Two groups, Texas Environmental Democrats and ConservAmerica, recently shared their strategy for promoting environmental protection as a non-partisan issue.

‘Green’ Dog Democrats 

While preparing for the Democratic State Convention in Houston in early June, Austin Adams, chair of the Texas Environmental Democrats, was upbeat about the
future of the environmental movement in Texas. Since he took over as leader of the official green caucus of the Democratic party in 2010, he’s helped expand the organization across the state.

“We’re in a building mode right now,” he said.

While the group had been Austin-centric in the past, today there are chapters in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth with plans for an El Paso outpost. Adams said it’s more effective to recruit people who know the local issues and are more able to influence them. “It’s great to have people on the ground who know the state legislators and politicians involved with the issues.”

The group also utilizes social media such as Facebook and Twitter to spur its more than 600 followers to action.

Adams said the Democratic Party has been traditionally receptive to the views of the environmental caucus. The challenge has been with Republicans blocking legislation.

However, Adams is optimistic as he’s starting to see some Republicans on the same side of issues such as water conservation in response to their constituents’ concerns.

The energy industry as well as farmers and ranchers depend heavily on water, he said. That creates an opportunity for collaboration with people who would not ordinarily refer to themselves as environmentalists. “That’s catching the attention of Republican congressmen,” said Adams.

According to the Texas Energy Report, Republican state representative Troy Fraser, the Senate Natural Resources Committee chairman, described the oil and gas industry as too “thirsty,” warning that the
amount of water being used is not sustainable. “I think you’re going to see more and more of that going forward,” said Adams.

He also predicted that Texas politicians and entrepreneurs will come around to solar power.

“Texas is hot and sunny and we’re in the middle of a drought,” he said. “It’s seems like a perfect storm.”

Republicans for the Environment 

Meanwhile, Jim DiPeso, policy director for ConservAmerica, is working for change from the other side.

The group changed its name in March from Republicans for Environmental Protection to the shorter, catchier moniker. The group’s membership has remained steady with about 3,000 members across the U.S. since it formed in 1995. Trammell Crow, founder of Earth Day Dallas, is a supporter and board member of the organization.

“It’s grown to a degree but not as fast as we’d like,” said DiPeso, who is based in Seattle. The group’s website features the motto “Growing a Greener GOP from the Ground Up.”  It lists a roster of Republicans who have contributed to the environmental movement, dating back to Abraham Lincoln, who signed a bill protecting Yosemite Valley in California, which laid the foundation for the national parks system.       

“Conservation is part of the conservative tradition,” said DiPeso. “There’s a perception that to be for the environment is to be anti-business. It’s been proven that adopting environmentally responsible practices can be very good for business.

When it comes to environmental issues, unlike some Republicans, ConservAmerica takes the stance that climate change is real and that global warming needs to be addressed.

“It’s important to take science seriously and be mindful of the risks we could be incurring,” he said.

As to where it stands on energy, the group promotes clean technology as well as nuclear energy and weaning off oil and coal. And while it does support natural gas drilling and fracking, the group has lobbied
to keep drilling out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

“Some places should not be industrialized. Biologically, it’s one of the most unique places on Earth,” said DiPeso. “There is no dire energy emergency that justifies jeopardizing that.”

DiPeso believes that talk radio hosts on both the right and the left have driven the rise of political polarization in the country. “They’re needlessly dividing and inflaming people. It reflects a decline in the quality of our nation’s media discourse.”

DiPeso said the group aims to bring back civil discussion and collaboration to find solutions for the nation’s environmental challenges.

“This is not something that can be accepted overnight,” he said. “In some ways, the job is harder now than when we first started."

"Our goal is to get to the point where there’s no need for the organization to exist any longer.”

Julie Thibodeaux is a Fort Worth-based writer covering environmental issues, green topics and sustainable living. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Contact her at