Drew Bond, co-founder and president of C3 Solutions, is a serial entrepreneur. Having founded several companies in the energy industry, he now leads an organization that helps conservatives counter the Left’s radical environmental ideas.
“I would argue that many conservatives are, in fact, better environmentalists than many in the environmental community,” Bond tells The Daily Signal.
Bond brings to the job experience as a solar company CEO who is passionate about expanding all types of American energy, including drilling and pipelines to meet the needs of U.S. consumers. He also previously was chief of staff to then-Heritage Foundation President Edwin J. Feulner. (The Daily Signal is the media outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
Listen to the full interview on “The Daily Signal Podcast” or read a lightly edited transcript below.
Rob Bluey: Tell us about the origin of C3 Solutions and how two conservatives, yourself and John Hart, ended up starting the organization.
Drew Bond: I guess everybody’s life is an interesting journey, but as you know, I had the pleasure of being chief of staff at The Heritage Foundation under Ed Feulner for, I guess, four years, and then CEO of townhall.com. And so Townhall actually was my first startup.
Then fast-forward to today, I’m a serial entrepreneur. I’ve got, I guess, five startups under my belt, and several of them in the energy space and a couple of technology-related, and generally just find myself in the space of looking to solve problems. And I think that’s where I had spent that time at Heritage and first cut my teeth on Capitol Hill years ago with Don Nickles, a senator from Oklahoma. And that’s where I met John Hart, who’s the co-founder with me at C3 Solutions.
And John was a longtime communications director for Tom Coburn, just one of the best people and conservatives that you’ll ever find, who sadly passed on. So John was his comms director throughout his entire career, House and Senate. And so we got to know each other through that and then stayed in touch over the years.
And more recently, I guess right before we started C3 Solutions in May of 2020, the prior summer, we started to reconnect and over a funny little thing, that you find that conservatives actually have these things in our lives that we don’t consider to be environmental causes, but we do care a lot about. And that is John had bought a 62-acre farm in Maryland, and he was pretty excited about stewarding his land and learning how to really care for it.
And one of my startups is actually a solar company, and so I have a company called PowerField Energy. We don’t make any of the solar panels or electrical equipment, we just make a very simple installation system for making solar faster and easier to install, and we make it in the United States. And I never thought I’d be in the solar business, but again, it goes back to problem-solving.
I found an idea that was worth commercializing, and here I am. And so we were both on his farm talking about putting solar on his farm and we got a good laugh out of the fact that there’s a lot of conservatives that actually care a lot about the environment, we just don’t speak the language of the environmental Left. And I would argue that many conservatives are, in fact, better environmentalists than many in the environmental community. Farmers, I would say, are the first environmentalists.
And so we just realized that there’s a gap in the market, the marketplace of ideas, in particular where we felt like conservatives really needed to get on offense on this issue. And not just the environment, but specifically climate, which has really become nomenclature for all things energy, environment, and climate change.
So we did a little bit of our own market discovery process, as any good entrepreneurs should do, and found that there was compelling need in the marketplace for this. And so we launched in 2020 and here we are, I guess, almost two and a half, three years later.
Bluey: So often it does seem that conservatives are playing defense on energy and climate issues. How do we go on offense and what are those advice and the tips that you have, not only for maybe people who are listening to this, but the policymakers in Washington who are setting the agenda?
Bond: C3 Solutions stands for the Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions. So we very intentionally put “conservative” and “climate” in our name, but also intentionally put “solutions” in our name because so much of the dialogue globally has been focused on climate change is going to result in ending the world and the sky’s falling, and we all need to look to government to solve all of our problems. And we just know that’s fundamentally wrong.
And so I think it really starts with conservatives being willing to engage on the issue to say, “Look, climates change, it’s changing real, it is human-induced in some respects. There’s natural elements of climate change, and there’s unnatural elements of climate change. And so the unnatural ones, the man-made ones, let’s see what we can do to make sure that we reduce our impact on the environment and on the climates globally, and leave this place better than we found it.”
And that’s fundamentally a conservative principle. So I think conservatives have really started, over the last couple years, to be unafraid to talk about climate.
For the longest time, it was only a fight about the science and the projections. And you can argue about that all day long, but the reality is that no matter what you believe about climate, and I use the word “belief” hesitantly because it has become somewhat of a religion, but no matter what you think about climate, whether you think it’s happening or not happening, somewhere in between, the solutions are always free market-driven.
And so we feel like this is the right territory for conservatives and free market-thinking people to go into it with real solutions because if we don’t, we’re going to lose the issue, and we’re going to lose future generations that care about this issue.
Bluey: One of the things that I found particularly helpful in the work that you do are the values that guide C3 Solutions. And you have seven of them. Without going through every one of them in detail, tell us about why those are important and how they guide your work.
Bond: Principles are critically important for keeping you on the right path. And I think one of our first principles is that people are first. And so why we care about the planet and we want to leave it better than we found it, you can’t save the planet at the expense of people. And so the true environmentalism really ought to be what is best for people around the planet.
And so then you’ve got to look at, what do we know historically has worked and what has not worked? And we know that the free enterprise system works, we know that economic freedom leads to a cleaner environment. And we even took the long-standing report that Heritage has published for, what, almost 30 years, I think 27, 28 years now.
Heritage does the Index of Economic Freedom, which ranks countries around the world in terms of how free they are, in terms of business freedom and individual freedom, how big is the government and how intrusive is it and so forth. And you see that track record of these governments.
And it turns out, when you overlay that data, the Index of Economic Freedom, with other environmental data—and so we used Yale, Yale University has an Environmental Performance Index—what you see is that economic freedom leads to a cleaner environment. And it’s not just by a little, it’s by a lot. It’s twice as much.
So countries that are economically free are twice as clean as countries that are economically unfree. And this proves out even just anecdotally. I mean, if you look at Venezuela, you look at China, you look at Russia, I mean, pick your country, pick your flavor of communism, socialism, dictatorships, Venezuela, none of those countries are good for the environment.
And when you look at countries that really care about economic freedom and reducing the overall burden of government in people’s lives, you see that people care about the environment, people make individual choices to leave things better than they found them.
So there’s a lot of principles in there but I think, fundamentally, the most single important principle is people have to be first, and certainly the planet is part of that calculus. And the way that you actually square that circle is through economic freedom.
Bluey: Many people, not just here in the United States, but across the world, are suffering, in some respects, given the high cost of energy. We see it when we fill up our tank of gas, or we see it in the cost of other products that rely on energy for their creation. It’s on the minds of many Americans as Election Day approaches. If you could wave a magic wand, what would you do to address some of these challenges?
Bond: I’d start by increasing American energy production, and that’s period, increase American energy production, period. America actually is the largest energy producer in the world, we do it cleaner than anybody else in the world.
And so this idea that, under this current administration, the pipelines are not acceptable, and so instead of having a natural gas pipeline, we’re going to have simply a pipeline of 18-wheeler trucks, trucking fuel down the road. And so if you really care about the environment, which one of those is better for the environment? A pipeline or a long line of trucks? Things like that.
There’s environmental laws and permitting restrictions in the United States that are actually keeping clean energy projects from being deployed, being built. And not just clean energy, I mean, pick your energy, whether it’s natural gas or nuclear, or solar, wind, hydro, you name it.
There’s this environmental law that’s been on the books for almost 50 years, the NEPA, as it’s called, the National Environmental Policy Act. And that was intended to protect the environment. And now, if you really care about the environment in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, then you need to deploy more energy faster, and it ought to be cleaner energy, which, by and large, is American energy.
And so we really need to unleash the private sector to be able to build more faster, and here in the United States, and be able to export that around the world for when we have excess, and particularly with our allies.
So I think, yeah, if I had a magic wand, I would open up all opportunities to drill and build pipelines and deploy all types of energy here in the United States as fast as possible.
Bluey: Are there things that the next Congress would be able to do to potentially challenge the Biden administration on the points that you’ve just made? Or is it really going to depend on having somebody else in the White House in order to enact the agenda you outlined?
Bond: It feels like these environmental regulations, for instance, have been a bit of a pingpong ball. Under the Trump administration, they actually made great strides to put in place streamlining of permitting for projects and a lot of things at the bureaucratic level. They simplified processes and forced projects to be identified in terms of one page even.
And that might sound like a small thing, but to be able to actually go from having to submit an application that’s hundreds of pages to a single page saves companies time and money and allows us to produce projects faster.
So under the Trump administration, they actually did a lot of good things. The Biden administration came in and completely wiped that away. More recently, they’ve made some strides to try and tip their hat a little bit to some of these NEPA reforms.
Even under the negotiations under the so-called Inflation Reduction Act, there was that quid pro quo, basically, where Sen. [Joe] Manchin was given the promise that after he agreed to spend all this money, that he would get his environmental reform permitting process voted on and hopefully done.
Well, what happened, of course, is we spent all this money, but we don’t have any permitting reform. And a large part of the reason we don’t is because the environmental community and the environmental Left in Congress has opposed it.
And so while they say that climate change is the most important issue in the world and they say that, in some cases, extreme cases, they say that the world’s going to end in 10 years if we don’t do something about it, well, they can’t seem to get out of their own way in order to actually deploy these technologies.
So I mean, even if you wanted to deploy more solar and wind faster, and only solar and wind, good luck, because you’re going to head straight into those environmental regulations. And then, oh, by the way, as much as solar and wind are great in some places, they’re not great in all places and they’re not great all the time, we need backup power.
And so I think, back to your question, it remains to be seen. If we end up with a divided Congress where we’ve got Republicans leading the House and hopefully the Senate, and we’ve got [President Joe] Biden in the White House, I’m not sure that this administration, his people in his White House in particular, and the policy shops could ever agree to get anything done. It seems like they’d rather use climate as a political football. So it may take a whole new administration.
Bluey: One of the things that we are advocating at The Heritage Foundation is a robust agenda. We can’t just be opposed to something, we have to be for something. And as you said earlier, having those solutions is certainly part of the equation. What can we learn from the current energy crisis in Europe? Is it a warning of what could happen here in America?
Bond: The short answer is yes, it’s absolutely a warning of what could happen in America and anywhere in the world.
I mean, I would say that, look, climate change is real and let’s consider the fact that bad climate policy is actually potentially more dangerous than bad climate change. I’ll say it again, bad climate policy is potentially more dangerous than bad climate change.
And that’s what we’re seeing play out in Germany right now, is you’ve got a government-led initiative where they said, “We’re going to go all-in on solar, we’re going to get rid of nuclear, we’re going to get rid of coal.” Because they went all-in on solar and wind, they had to get natural gas from somewhere as a backup baseload power, and they got that from Russia, which, actually, their gas is not close to being as clean as the United States’ gas.
So in the name of the environment, they went all-in on solar and wind and Russian natural gas. And now that Russia, and particularly [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, has invaded Ukraine, you’re seeing that Germany’s now in a very unstable, insecure energy position. And that’s having ripple effects across all of Europe.
And so you’ve got governments calling for energy rationing. And sadly, it’s government policy that put them in this place, and now government policy is coming in to try and fix it.
I think what we have to recognize is that there’s always unintended consequences to policy. And so it doesn’t make sense to go all-in on any one particular piece of technology type of energy. And again, this is not a religion, it should not be a religion. Energy is a technology, and you’ve got trade-offs and you’ve got costs and benefits.
And so, look, solar and wind are good in some places and not good in other, and nuclear energy, great in a lot of places, but maybe you don’t want to put it in other places.
In spite of the fact that it’s the safest form of energy out there and also the cleanest from a greenhouse gas emission perspective, natural gas, even coal for that matter, I mean, coal has been demonized and workers in the coal industry have been demonized. And look, with innovation, who knows, I mean, coal could actually be the technology one day that it in fact helps save the climate.
No one knew what innovation was going to result in when you think about our natural gas industry in the United States. We thought we were running into further and further depleting resources. We were importing energy, not exporting it. And through innovation, because of innovation, we’re now exporting energy around the world.
I think we exported something like, this year, we’ll export like 16% more energy this year than last year to the rest of the world.
So innovation really is the key. Energy diversity, energy abundance, reliability, all of those things, we need to check the boxes on it.
And I just continue to go back to, when I first got into the energy space, the reason I did was we, as the United States, were beholden to the Middle East for our energy resources and I just thought that’s crazy.
I mean, any smart person, and you don’t have to be even that smart, if you want to put your money into a bank account or a 401(k), I think most people want to see that money diversified. And so when we think about our energy resources and energy supplies for us in terms of our food and water and all kinds of resources, I want diverse, reliable, abundant, affordable energy resources, period.
Bluey: One of the things that I’m concerned about that could certainly get in the way of that is this effort on the part of the Left, which is known as ESG. It’s an environmental, social, governance framework. What should Americans know about ESG and how it’s driving changes in our society right now?
Bond: This has become a really hot topic because it’s all in the context of the woke movement. And so ESG, as you said, it stands for environmental, social, and governance. I try to be an optimist about this stuff. And so I think when I look at where it started, I think there are some good intentions behind it.
People want their companies to be … a better steward of their environment, a better steward of their resources, a better steward in their communities. I think everybody wants that. But when you start mandating that companies have to act a certain way and embrace certain environmental and social causes, then that’s when you start to run into real problems.
And I think that’s why we’re seeing a backlash in that movement right now, is because they’ve, if anything, probably emphasized the environmental and the social perspective of it, and less so the governance. And I would argue that any company that is governed well is going to care about the environmental and the social implications of how and where it does business.
So I just think, look, if you really care about being a profitable company in a capitalist, free market society, then you’re going to care about how you do business and who you do business with. And so you’re going to be a good steward and a good citizen in the community.
And I think the other thing that’s been lost in all of this ESG movement is, I mean, so much of it is about, what’s your climate goal? And everybody’s trying to one-up themselves or the next company over, “Are you going to meet zero carbon by 2050 or 2045? Or heck, let’s just do it in 2030, why not?” Well, that all defies reality. If you want to really address climate, we want to move as accelerated as possible, but in a manner that is also reliable and affordable and responsible.
We also have to keep in mind that just because you deploy solar and wind here in the United States, you’ve got to make those technologies somewhere. And in many cases, they’re actually made from fossil fuels. So that’s not a bad thing, but the environmental community seems to ignore that fact.
And then where are you getting your minerals? And where are you mining those minerals from? And what labor standards are you utilizing to mine those? Are you using slave labor? Are you using child labor? Or are you living up to the higher standards that we have here in America?
So all of this ESG movement seems to not take an actual full-picture approach and perspective of this, and they just want to mandate their own values on these companies, and forcing them into making decisions that aren’t always good for people and aren’t always as good for the planet as advertised.
Bluey: What are some of the biggest myths that you encounter about the environment or climate in your line of work?
Bond: Oh, man, there’s so many. The biggest one these days is that the climate is changing so rapidly that if we don’t fix it in the next 10 years, then we’re all doomed. I mean, that’s what is being sold to the world.
Many students, I mean, you start to see this with kids around the country, that they’ve got what’s becoming a medically diagnosed condition of climate anxiety. And it all stems from this overhype of how bad the problem is, which ignores the fact that, all right, if the climate is changing and we need to do something about it and we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as fast as possible, well, how fast can we do it, again, reliably and affordably, and with good resilience? And let’s do it in a way that is responsible and let’s talk about that in a responsible way.
So, I mean, I think that is the biggest myth, is that we can somehow just go all-in wind and solar and that’s going to save the planet, when, again, nothing against wind and solar, and like I said, I have a solar company, but to go all-in, 100% wind and solar, would be insanity. It would not be reliable, it would not be affordable, and it just wouldn’t make sense.
And so I think the environmental community is overselling the alarmism of climate and overselling the benefits of renewables, when in fact we just need a rational, practical, diversified approach.
Bluey: As a father of three kids and somebody who knows, whether it be through schooling or just media broadly, they are, in many ways, indoctrinated from a very early age with a certain perspective on the issues we’ve been talking about. So how can we as conservatives reach that younger generation of Americans with the message that we’ve been talking about today?
Bond: You’ve got three kids, I’ve got six kids. It’s an important issue. Like I said, I think kids really care about climate. When you poll them, climate change is one of the top three issues that they care about. And so I think it’s important to point them to reliable resources that take a full-picture approach here. I mean, Heritage is one of those, certainly.
C3, as a part of our efforts to educate people, kids included on this, we have a news magazine just called C3. And so, if you go to c3newsmag.com, there, we try to promote the innovation that’s happening around the world and the fact that there’s a lot of good things, there’s a lot of innovation that’s private sector-led, there’s a lot of free market competition, and always trying to point toward solutions and underscore the fact that it’s the private sector, it’s free markets, and it’s not the government that’s going to solve these challenges.
And so, I think try to point them to good, reliable resources, and hopefully our news magazine is one of those.