WASHINGTON -- After 16 years of trying to marry their party's support for drilling and climate change denial with environmental protection, Republicans for Environmental Protection is dropping the word "Republican" from its name.
The group's new name, ConservAmerica, is designed to "explain the connection between conservatism and conservation" and underscore the group's ethic of stewardship.
"Our mission is staying exactly the same," said David Jenkins, the group's vice president for government affairs. "It's more of an emphasis issue, switching from the emphasis being on Republican -- not that we're separating ourselves from that at all. It's just putting the emphasis more on connecting conservation and conservative, which are born of the same root."
The Republican legacy of conservation reaches as far back as Abraham Lincoln, who in 1864 enacted legislation protecting the land that would become Yosemite National Park. It was Dwight Eisenhower who established the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and Richard Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency and passed many of the most significant pieces of environmental legislation in place today.
Since then Republicans have declared war on the EPA, with top GOP presidential candidates at odds even with the Tea Party in their promises to strip the agency of federal funding. After examining more than 150 votes aimed at stripping environmental protections last year, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, declared, "This is, without doubt, the most anti-environmental Congress in history."
Yet, to hear Jenkins speak, the party hasn't changed all that much. He blames talk radio and "the left" for mischaracterizing his party.
"Someone needs to be standing up there and saying, 'Hold it, this is not what conservatism is about,'" he said. "It's always been really about conservation and stewardship and that's been sort of the glue that holds all the other tenets of conservatism together. So we wanted to be making that point."
Daniel Weiss, director of climate strategy for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, isn't buying it.
"Under either name ... they face a fundamental challenge that the pro-conservation party of Roosevelt, Nixon, Schwarzenegger and McCain has become the climate science denial party of Romney, Santorum and Limbaugh," he told Politico.
"Changing its name is unlikely to alter the Republican party culture, where denial of climate science has become another litmus test," he added, while praising the group for its dedication to conservation.
While ConservAmerica may take a bit more time to explain than the self-evident "Republicans for Environmental Protection," Jenkins says the new name is much more user-friendly with respect to social media and public outreach.
"'Republicans for Environmental Protection' is a mouthful," Jenkins said.
The group will keep its green elephant mascot.
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