11/17/2010 01:10 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

GOP and the Environment: The Bruising Battle Ahead, and Five Ways to Overcome It

Insiders tell us a battle is looming within the GOP between those for and against a Republican pro-environment agenda.

On the one hand, a small but powerful set of angry GOP social conservatives plan to haul leading environmentalists and scientists before Congress for what they intend to be brutal hearings, to discredit their efforts to protect global climate.

On the other hand, fiscally conservative Republicans see the next two to four years as an opportunity to help dismantle long-term taxpayer subsidies that drive pollution and waste, from the Farm Bill to coal subsidies.

Still embattled by ideologues who demand alligiance to political correctness, these deficit hawks are quietly gaining ground. Convinced that purists like Sarah Palin and Senator Jim Demint cost them control of the Senate by pushing social conservatives in winnable states, they are looking to head off the public battles that pit the GOP against causes broadly supported by the public.

Environmentalists can find common ground with these deficit hawks. This week, as the nearly 100 new members of Congress learn the procedural ropes, hundreds of investors are convening at the Sustainable and Responsible Investment (SRI) in the Rockies conference, to consider how to invest their capital to help drive environmentally sustainable growth.

The fiscally conservative wing of the GOP can help get government out of their way. Here are five policies that budget hawks and green investors can support together:

More Natural Gas, Less Coal. Coal -- our largest source of electricity -- is the oldest major fuel source in America and the most highly subsidized. Cutting those subsidies, while instituting best practices to prevent abuses in the natural gas "fracking" process, would shift the market toward natural gas, which is many times cleaner, and provide a boost to cleaner technologies and more efficient energy over the longer term.

Cleaner Water, Better Farming. Agriculture is responsible for 80% of water use and 90% of water pollution. Perverse subsidies make it expensive for farmers to save water and cut chemical contamination. The 2012 Farm Bill, scheduled to be negotiated in 2011, provides a clear opportunity to cut subsidies, drive efficiency, and reduce pollution at the same time.

Cleaner Air, Lower Taxes. Fiscal conservatives were not fond of the 2009 and 2010 House and Senate bills proposing cap-and-trade schemes, which aimed to create a federal system for trading carbon emissions. But they like lower taxes, increased job opportunities, stronger national security, and smarter government spending. The proposed Smart Tax Shift provides a viable alternative. By cutting payroll taxes for a year, then making the cuts permanent by putting a price on carbon, both the green and tea parties would get what they want.

Less Trash, Lower Garbage Fees. Most people think ever-increasing garbage fees are inevitable. But it's time to change the way we pay for waste management -- to privatize costs now borne by the public. Producers should pay for the waste they "design in" to products and packages, costs they now "socialize" by passing them along to local communities. Consumers should pay for the waste they choose to generate, so that one person's efforts to recycle aren't undermined by neighbors who choose to waste more. A well designed system of "Extended Producer Responsibility" at the state and local levels would internalize waste costs now borne by ratepayers.

Smarter Technology, Greener Prosperity. Yesterday's technologies may have been costly to the earth. But today's are increasingly green. Over a decade ago, Vice President Al Gore boasted:

"Throughout our economy, skills, intelligence, and creativity are replacing mass and money -- which is why, in the past 50 years, the value of our economy has tripled, while the physical weight of our economy as a whole has barely increased at all."

A combined economic and environmental sustainability agenda would cut regulatory barriers to further advance the kind of smart technologies that have enabled this phenomenon. It would also help our nation leapfrog from yesterday's extractive economy to tomorrow's more sustainable one.

Though there is much that divides the Left and the Right, both are dedicated to sustainability -- one fiscal and the other environmental. These five points represent a small sampling of ways in which their two objectives can be advanced at once. It is time to set aside anger and demonization, and find solutions together, wherever we can.

Bill Shireman is CEO of Future 500, a non-profit that forges common solutions to economic, social, and environmental challenges, by bringing together the best ideas and advocates from the left and right, activists and business.