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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Conservatives and Climate Change

Air Date: Week of
Former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis (Photo: Wikimedia Creative Commons)

Polls show many of Mitt Romney supporters don't see climate change as a real problem, but a former Republican congressman believes that conservatives should take the lead on the issue. Bob Inglis, a former representative from South Carolina argues a free enterprise solution is the answer to climate disruption.


CURWOOD: Well, one Republican with a free market approach to the risks of climate disruption is former Congressman Bob Inglis. His conservative ideas include a carbon tax. He represented the Greenville Spartanburg region of South Carolina for a dozen years, earning stellar ratings from the American Conservative Union and the Christian Coalition. Congressman Inglis joins me on the line - welcome!

INGLIS: Great to be with you, Steve. Thank you.

CURWOOD: Now, you say Republicans need to stop equivocating about the reality of climate change.

INGLIS: Yeah, I think what we've been doing is sort of assuming that we don't have a very good answer, and the other team has an answer and so therefore let's just decide not to compete. You know, if you think that you're not competitive then the best thing to do is to diminish the value of the competition. What I would submit, though, is actually conservatives really are the indispensible partners in this, the ones that must come forward with a solution. Two reasons: one is, anything big like this really does require both parties to work together on it, that's one reason. The other is really the country is looking for this kind of muscular free enterprise answer that conservatives are very good at delivering.

CURWOOD: What kind of price do you think Republicans will pay if they don't figure out some way to deal with climate change?

INGLIS: Well, I think that for young people, this is an issue that matters because they plan on staying around a while. I guess if you're near the end of your life cycle you're not so concerned about something that's maybe 50, 75, 100 years away. But if you're young, you think, 'Gee, that's within the life of my children that I hope to have.' So it means we need to get relevant for those folks so we can show that, really, conservatism has an answer here.

CURWOOD: Now you most famously introduced a carbon tax while you were in the Congress to address climate change. How would that work?

INGLIS: It's basically a tax swap. It involves changing what we tax. Right now, we tax income. We don't tax emissions. So why would we not want to swap it so we reduce taxes on something we want more of, which is income, and we shift the tax onto something we want less of, which is carbon dioxide.

And so that's what my bill would've done. It's a replacement for cap and trade. I voted against cap and trade. I found it way too complicated, the free allocations were embarrassing, it decimated American manufacturing and it was a massive tax increase. So for all those reasons I voted against cap and trade, but I think that a revenue neutral tax swap where there's no additional take to the government, it's just we're changing what we tax, reducing taxes on income, imposing taxes on carbon dioxide and the result is, not only do we have more money in our pocket to afford the innovation, but the innovation is driven by consumers who feel a need for better technology.

CURWOOD: If we had the Inglis carbon tax today, how would it affect people's electric bills or what we would pay for gasoline?

INGLIS: Well, of course both would go up and that's what is difficult in the political process because you make that admission and then you think, 'Oh, golly, that ain't going to work too well.' Then you hope that people hear the rest of it. Yes, the price of electricity would go up but two things: one, in the proposal I made you'd have a larger paycheck because we would have reduced some form of income taxation. The second is we'd be paying the full cost of coal-fired electricity, for example, at the meter, rather than in hidden ways.

The reality is, we're already paying the full cost of coal-fired electricity. We pay in higher health insurance premiums, because 23,600 people die prematurely each year in the United States because of the soot from coal-fired electricity. There are over 3 million lost work days because of that soot. Why not pay at the meter? Be honest about it. Be fully transparent. Be accountable. And then, because you've got money in your pocket from the corresponding tax cut elsewhere, we innovate away from coal-fired electricity.

CURWOOD: Congressman Inglis, the phone rings, it's Mitt Romney. He says, 'Give me advice as to how to deal with climate change, given that undecided voters seem to be breaking for Obama on this issue.'

INGLIS: Well, I'd say that Governor Romney, what you should do is be the champion of free enterprise that you are. That's your greatest strength. The country is looking for somebody that can lead us out of the great recession. Let's show the country that there's a free enterprise answer on energy and climate and in the process be relevant, especially to those independent voters who are inclined to pay attention to this issue.

CURWOOD: Bob Inglis is a former Republican member of Congress from South Carolina. He now heads up the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University. Thanks so much, Congressman!

INGLIS: Great to be with you, Steve! Thanks.




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