Republicans have an opportunity to capture young peoples’ imagination with a 21st century vision of prosperity, one founded not on big government spending, but on the kind of innovation they have learned to expect from a free market economy.

Yet when many Republicans talk about growing the economy, they still emphasize the need to “drill-baby-drill,” to achieve “energy independence” – something they have been trying to do since President Nixon’s term. That traps them in a narrative that pits the economy against the environment. Before long, their economic growth plan is to strip the “job-killing EPA” of its regulatory power, so big companies can extract more oil faster.

Of course, EPA regulations can and do kill jobs, which is one reason why only 20% of young people in the Spring 2012 Harvard Institute of Politics survey believe that “government spending is an effective way to increase economic growth.” But focusing first on EPA strikes the young as out of touch. They know regulations can kill jobs – but they also know poor safety practices can kill people. The anti-regulatory message cuts both ways for them.

The GOP can’t win by opposing all regulations. It needs to acknowledge that some regulations are needed, while showing how easily most can be hijacked to support vested interests rather than their public purpose. The party must favor safety and responsibility; its critique of regulations must flow from this purpose.

Young voters also know we need energy to thrive. Some 51% of young voters think they would be at least somewhat better off if more oil and natural gas exploration was permitted. But they know better than some party leaders that fossil fuels are just one of the ingredients. Much more important is the human component: our ability to create value.

It is essential for Republicans to have a 21st century plan to grow prosperity through innovation, not unregulated drilling or unrestrained spending, and enable young people to make choices about family and home on their own terms, without putting them off due to a poor economy.