Former GOP Rep. Bob Inglis pushes market-based climate-change ideas

Paul Conner Executive Editor
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WASHINGTON — A former congressman says he has the solution to the world’s carbon emissions problem. And he’s a Republican.

With climate change back on lawmakers’ radar after President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address, former Rep. Bob Inglis is one of the few in his party willing to speak out on the issue. A victim of the tea party’s wrath in 2010, Inglis represented one of South Carolina’s most conservative districts for 12 years. Now he believes proposing a conservative answer to climate change could help the GOP rebound politically.

After he was voted out of office, Inglis established the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University. Its plan is simple: end tax breaks for all fuels, tax carbon pollution and cut taxes elsewhere to ensure that the government collects no more revenue than it would otherwise receive.

“I think the reason that conservatives have shrunk in science denial is that we don’t think we have an answer, when the reality is, we got the only answer that’s going to work,” Inglis told The Daily Caller on Thursday. “It’s free enterprise and markets that work.”

The plan, he said, would cut carbon emissions without EPA regulations or Department of Energy loan guarantees, and encourage innovation away from fossil fuels.

In exchange for the carbon tax, Inglis favors dollar-for-dollar tax cuts in either the corporate income tax, personal incomes tax or payroll tax. Alternatively, he would support returning the revenue the carbon tax would bring in to taxpayers via a dividend.

The price of gasoline and electricity would inevitably rise under the tax, a result that Inglis said is better than having an unfair market. By taxing energy companies $25 per ton of carbon emissions, for example, the cost of gasoline is estimated to rise about $.25 per gallon.

“We have economic actors who are able to socialize their costs while privatizing their profits, and that is a real market distortion and is something that should drive all of us as conservatives crazy,” he said.

The tax would be applied to imports and removed on exports, and it would cut down on health-care costs related to soot in the air caused by coal-fired power plants, he said. The initiative has the support of former Reagan economic adviser Art Laffer.

“The best way to get there is just an elegant price signal: Here’s the real cost of gasoline,” Inglis said. “If you do that, you let people decide. If you want a great big car, go ahead. If I want a Volt, then I’m not going to pay what you’re paying to get around.”

Inglis said he understands conservatives’ skepticism of climate science.

“Liberals told us that the sky is falling, and they laid out these apocalyptic visions, and what conservatives are right to suspect is that they’re getting ready to jam down some regulations growing government and increasing taxes,” he said, citing the 2009 cap-and-trade bill, which he opposed in Congress.

He acknowledged that “the dominant view of science could be wrong,” but cited how property and casualty insurance companies are being urged to account for climate change in calculating risks and pricing their products.

“So what is rational to do is listen to the dominant view of science and make policy accordingly,” Inglis said.

But the politics of the issue, he conceded, must change before Republican lawmakers can pursue legislation. Inglis noted that his primary defeat in 2010 makes him in some ways “the worst commercial for this” carbon tax plan.

“So we have to provide some covering fire” by persuading voters, he said. “The good news is — I won’t out them — but there are Republicans that understand these things and know that we have the answers. We got to get past the populist rejectionism that’s playing on the radio right now.”

As the GOP considers new ideas on immigration and education, and new methods of outreach, the party’s up-and-comers are not mentioning climate change. That is not the way it should be, Inglis said.

“If we want to make a play for the future, we as Republicans will say we have fresh ideas that involve free enterprise economics, and we believe those things, and we’ll show you how they work.”

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