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Bob Inglis: Conservative Means Standing With Science on Climate

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"Bob Inglis: Conservative Means Standing With Science on Climate"

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by Bob Inglis, via Bloomberg

Normally, the country can count on conservatives to deal in facts. We base policies on science, not sentiment, we insist on people being accountable for their actions, and we maintain that markets, not mandates, are the path to prosperity.

When it comes to energy and climate, these are not normal times.

We’re following sentiment, not science, we’re turning a blind eye to accountability, and we’re failing to use the power of markets.

The National Academy of Sciences says, “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks.” Several recent studies have found that 95 percent of climate scientists are convinced that the planet is rapidly warming as a result of human activity. But a George Mason University-Yale University poll in May found that only 13 percent of the public realizes that scientists have come to that conclusion.

You would expect conservatives to stand with 95 percent of the scientific community and to grow the 13 percent into a working majority. Normally, we deal in facts, we accept science and we counter sentiment — as we do when we stand for free- trade agreements, for entitlement reform and against minimum- wage increases. Each of those positions gets us in trouble with sizable constituencies, and yet we stand for the truth as we know it — that free trade increases our nation’s wealth, that entitlements are consuming the federal budget and that minimum wages create unemployment.

Courage fails us when it comes to energy and climate. Fearing our economic circumstances, we’ve decided to channel the fear rather than to confront it.

Some conservatives even allege that the scientific conclusion about climate change is affected by the flow of grant money — a conflict of interest that we overlook when taking the drug Lipitor, even though the tests proving its efficacy were financed by its maker, Pfizer. Conservatives seem to think that climate change is for elitists, enviros and Democrats, not hard-working, God-fearing Republicans.

A Scapegoat

In the light most favorable, maybe conservatives are thinking, “If there is a problem, surely there’s some brainiac who will invent a solution.” Call it the faithful’s faith in the faithless. In any event, the thinking seems to go, it’s just not “our” issue. And because we’re already at war on a number of other fronts, surely posterity will forgive us if we offer the fearful a scapegoat rather than a solution on this one. Meanwhile, our friends (or are they our masters?) say “Attaboy!” on talk TV and radio.

Thankfully, some are beginning to take a conservative approach rather than a populist approach. Governor Chris Christie, the effective, deficit-cutting governor of New Jersey, has joined presidential candidates Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney in saying that climate change is real and is caused, in part, by human activity. That Christie said those things while removing his state from a cap-and-trade compact is no contradiction. Most of us conservatives think that cap-and-trade is the wrong answer. Some of us support an alternative that involves changing what we tax (reducing taxes on income; shifting an equal amount of tax to carbon dioxide emissions).

Normally, conservatives are also people who believe in accountability. We start with proposition that humans are responsible moral actors, and we believe that behavior has consequences. So why don’t we hold power plants accountable for their emissions?

According to a study by Abt Associates in 2004, small particulates from coal-fired plants cause 23,600 premature deaths in the U.S. annually, 21,850 hospital admissions, 26,000 emergency room visits for asthma, 38,200 heart attacks that are not fatal, and 3,186,000 lost work days.

No Free Lunch

Because conservatives know that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, we know that we’re paying for those deaths and illnesses. We pay for them through government programs for the poor and elderly, and when the costs of the uninsured are shifted onto the insured. We pay all right, but just not at the electric meter.

We pay the full cost of petroleum in hidden ways, too. We pay to protect the supply lines coming out of the Middle East through the blood of the country’s best and though the treasure that comes from our taxes or, worse, from deficit financing. We pay in the risk to our national security. We pay the cost of lung impairments when the small-particulate pollution comes from tailpipes just like we pay when the small particulates come from power plants. We just don’t pay at the pump.

What if we attached all of the costs — especially the hidden costs — to all fuels? What if we believed in accountability? What if we believed in the power of free markets?

If we did, the price of gasoline and coal-fired electricity would rise significantly, but hidden costs paid in hidden ways would decline commensurately. If we simultaneously eliminated all subsidies, we’d unleash real competition among all fuels. Markets would powerfully deliver solutions. New power turbines would come to market that remove the sulfur and the mercury from coal before combustion, burning only the hydrogen. Emission-free nuclear power plants would be built. Electric cars would rapidly penetrate the market — not because of clumsy government mandates or incentives, but because sharp entrepreneurs would be selling useful products to willing customers awakened by accountable pricing.

The solution to our energy and climate challenge can be found in the conservative concept of accountability and in a well-functioning free-enterprise system. We conservatives just need to believe that.

– Bob Inglis represented the 4th district of South Carolina in the U.S. House from 1993 to 1999 and from 2005 to 2011.

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46 Responses to Bob Inglis: Conservative Means Standing With Science on Climate

  1. Bob,

    Science, Politics, and Economics are just front organizations for the economic interests of the extraction industries and Wall St. This isn’t new.

    Sincerely,

    The Hegemon

  2. John Hollenberg says:

    > “New power turbines would come to market that remove the sulfur and the mercury from coal before combustion, burning only the hydrogen.”

    And here I thought coal had carbon in it… learn something new every day.

    • Greg Wellman says:

      Heh yeah, I was going to point out that chemistry fail. Any hydrogen in coal is a tiny impurity (although a “good” impurity from a pollution standpoint, unlike the mercury and sulfur he rightly wants to remove). I think it’s more than just a slip though, it’s like a conservative who has acknowledged that fossil fuels have externalities that should be priced in has trouble admitting that coal is essentially pure carbon.

  3. Joan Savage says:

    This proposal is a bit like the fable about “Belling the Cat.”
    I can fully agree conceptually with Bob Inglis that if all the externalized costs like health care were internalized into each market transaction, we would see huge and responsible changes. We should continue to work towards that long view of responsibility and accountability for actions.

    However, the proposal to ditch all our other tools to hold transactions responsible and move to a system that relies entirely on embedding costs into market transactions is like the mice agreeing that Someone should put a Bell on the Cat.

    The closest we come to a Bell at this time are insurance premiums that are more honestly proportional to all liabilities. Bob Costanza and others have pointed out that insuring a nuclear power facility includes many liabilities that make private insurance prohibitively expensive. Consider how big an escro account would need to be to cover risks related to a nuclear waste dump over millennia, as well as the more immediate FULL costs of a Fukushima or Chernobyl type disaster.

    Without an adequate accounting system fully implemented for FULL costs of transaction, we can’t dump the other ways of holding market transactions accountable that we have as tools at this time.

    That doesn’t mean we should give up on belling the cat.

  4. Barry says:

    “…the country can count on conservatives to deal in facts. ”

    Um, since when would this be?

    • Peter Mizla says:

      The Republican party today- 95% of them at least roam about with with obscene banners nasty slogans, distortions, scapegoating, and denial of reality.

      For all his good intentions, the former representative fails to see what his political party has become. He needs to leave the GOP- today it fits neatly into the dictionary definition of Fascism.

    • Greg Wellman says:

      Back around Nixon and prior to that. I have no firsthand knowledge of that time period :-)

  5. catman306 says:

    Rather than taxing carbon dioxide emissions, shouldn’t we be taxing carbon at the source, the well head, the coal mine, and the import dock? That tax should be substantial and it could then replace the income tax as our country’s principal source of income.

    • Paul magnus says:

      Totally agree on this. The emissions should not occur in the first place. It’s the principle and the more straightforward way to do it. We could start by removing or drawing down the subsidies of fossil fuels.

      However, unless there are alternatives it won’t work. Look at the riots around the world on food prices, gas prices and austerity measures. Whe we see this I don’t know if we will be able to achieve the switch. Especially with food. What alternatives are there for cheap food production without fossil fuels?

  6. Joan Savage says:

    As for free market choices, there have to be some.

    If the true costs (health damages, climate change damages) of coal-fired electricity were passed along to consumers, where is the consumer capital to go buy an alternative?
    US demographics show that many don’t have the resources to buy the solar panels up front, although grid-distributed renewable power might get the business.

  7. Dean says:

    “and we maintain that markets, not mandates, are the path to prosperity.”

    and

    “Most of us conservatives think that cap-and-trade is the wrong answer. Some of us support an alternative that involves changing what we tax (reducing taxes on income; shifting an equal amount of tax to carbon dioxide emissions).”

    ====

    Isn’t cap and trade supposed to be the market-oriented solution? Didn’t Clinton adopt it to make conservatives of his day happy?

  8. sault says:

    It’s sad that Mr. Inglis has to sprinkle in right-wing myths in and around what is a fairly solid article. The contradiction in saying that markets are the best way to deal with pollution and then throw Cap-and-Trade out the window is glaring. While Govs. Christie and Huntsman appear to accept the science of climate change, they fail to accept ANY of the solutions.

    Holding up a Carbon Tax as a more sensible option is a distraction for several reasons. Most prominently, his conservative buddies in Congress will NEVER vote for ANY tax increases. Additionally, a Carbon Tax is generally less flexible in response to technology and market developments than a permit system. The CAP part of Cap-and-Trade also ensures that we get AT LEAST the level of carbon reductions that we commit to beforehand while a carbon tax just acts like a negative subsidy based on the carbon content of a given fuel.

    As for the non-climate related canards in his article, free trade agreements have led to millions of jobs being sent overseas and cheap products dumped on our domestic markets, putting even more Americans out of work. Even with the Minimum Wage increase recently, it is still 20% lower than in the 1970s when adjusted for inflation. Entitlements can be fixed if we don’t pay full benefits to wealthy individuals, crack down on inefficiencies in healthcare delivery (there’s plenty of excesses in treatment, insurance company and drug company profits, and fraud), and if we increase the ~$106K ceiling on income subject to payroll taxes to be indexed to inflation. Counting ALL income as income instead of separating out unearned income would go a long way to keep our “entitlement” programs safe.

    On climate, Mr. Inglis is turning the page and accepting science over sentiment, but he still clings to the conservative sentiment on economic and fiscal issues.

    • Paul magnus says:

      Free trade is all and well good as long as it’s fair trade. In any case there is no real free market in a carbon constrain world (currently and for foreseeable future) as local markets win hands down for ghg emission.

  9. Joan Savage says:

    The operative Inglis proposal is in this quote:

    “Some of us support an alternative that involves changing what we tax (reducing taxes on income; shifting an equal amount of tax to carbon dioxide emissions).

    The emissions, energy and socio-economics of that proposal deserves way more attention.
    Equal amount? That’s not responsive to reducing green house gases, that IS responsive to lowering income taxes.

    Also, it would be good to know more about who are the “some of us” Inglis writes about.

  10. Paul magnus says:

    Climate Portals
    Most offsetting dose not wok. Again it’s being manipulated. Best way to reduce your ghg emissions is not to emit them.

    Lateline – 03/10/2011: A trading system is essential: Henry Derwent
    http://www.abc.net.au
    International Emissions Trading Association chief Henry Derwent says it is early days in the development of carbon trading systems but those which dont work are being identified

  11. Max says:

    It depresses me that out of 14 responses, not one is supportive. This man is not the enemy. He is your ally in the fight to reduce carbon emisssions.

    Do you really believe that this country will ever make substantial progess on reducing fossil fuel use without some bipartisan support?

    Climate change is much bigger than petty partisan politics.

    • Joan Savage says:

      I am openly supportive of the concept of having societal costs embodied in market transactions. I am happy he acknowledges climate change is occurring, too.

      The devil’s in the details, such as his proposal to tax carbon emissions at an equivalent cumulative value to lowered income taxes.

      Imagine having to make a recalibration of that relationship from year to year, with a phantom figure of income taxes not collected as a basis for setting a carbon emission tax.

      The real health and climate cost of carbon emissions is immense, particularly coming on top of 392 ppm. What basis does he have to assume that it is equivalent to a tax break?

      Besides, there is a lot of political slippage in who would get to do that cost accounting on total liability costs for such carbon emissions.

      It is audacious to expect to squeeze the real cost of carbon combustion into the amount of an income tax cut.

      Such arrangement would distribute the cost of carbon emissions to all retail customers, including the person pinching pennies to drive a car and heat with propane.

      Is he really that much of a friend?

      • Greg Wellman says:

        I don’t think he’s talking about such a dynamic relationship between a carbon tax and an income tax cut. I think he’s saying (much more sensibly) that we can estimate how much a carbon tax will bring in and enact other cuts that roughly offset it. Conceptually he’s right. (And further conceptually, it would be smart to build in a healthy margin of error with the surplus going to deficit reduction.)

        That would be fine, and taken on face value, Bob is our ally. But given the delay-at-any-cost mentality of the fossil fuel interests, this feels like a bait-and-switch where experts like Romm have long said “A carbon tax at extraction is the simplest way to get the externalities priced in” but conservatives said “no new taxes, but maybe we’ll go for a cap & trade like we did for the ozone layer” and then those same conservatives voted that down, and now one of them is pointing out that a tax is more sensible … how many more times can we go around in that circle?

        • Greg Wellman says:

          Further, propose that the offsetting income tax reduction be roughly half from the “main” income tax and half from payroll taxes, to keep the overall effect from being highly regressive. Now see if Bob is still in favor.

          • Joan Savage says:

            I’m trying to see how it could work. A carbon tax implemented at the wellhead or the tar sand bed or open pit coal mine that is calibrated to all the real societal costs of using such a fuel might be prohibitively expensive, and that’s really the intended outcome in a free market. Making a lesser carbon tax that doesn’t fully address societal costs might be tolerable if there was a phase-up to full cost over a few years.
            That might also mollify my concerns about the huge retail sector of energy consumption that doesn’t have enough economic choice to jump to clean energy right away.

            Meanwhile, the PBS program on Prohibition has brought up the historic example of government desperate for tax revenue such that it pressed for the end of Prohibition so that it could resume taxes on liquor. So what happens if a carbon tax is effective at lowering GHGs and government still needs revenue? I guess we’ll cross that bridge if we are lucky enough to get to it.

  12. Raul M. says:

    A telling sentence, that we channel our fear. Still do not know why I would be to blame other than I was in the path of their new channel. An allegory excuse for the pipeline trauma to the earth and all aboard?

  13. Martin Palmer says:

    Yes, it would be great to level the playing field.

    But leveling the playing field by charging the fossil fuel corporations for the full consequences of burning fossil fuels would result in banning fossil fuels.

    There is a tremendous greenhouse multiplier effect when using fossil fuels, as Ken Caldeira and Joe have pointed out in the past. Each ton of fossil fuel burned will eventually release greenhouse heating equivalent to 100,000 tons of fossil fuel. Because of this tremendous multiplier effect, a huge fine would have to be changed for fossil fuel use to truly represent the environmental impact of fossil fuels.

    Charging industries for the right to pollute in proportion to the costs of their pollution is a great idea. But doing so would result in the destruction of the oil corporations.

  14. popeyesmotto says:

    I don’t believe the Republican Party is a conservative political party

  15. Clark Meyer says:

    Here, here, Max. Without building bridges to folks like Ingliss, we’re doomed.

    • Joan Savage says:

      I was initially elated by a lot of what Inglis said, and it was only upon reflection of what he was suggesting that we do that I had to step back.

      This isn’t rhetorical, I really want to know what kind of adaptation could be made of his proposal that would achieve lowering carbon emissions significantly without leaving the split between rich and poor even greater than it is. Ideas?

      • Buzz Belleville says:

        Ms. Savage — If it’s a truly revenue-neutral carbon tax, where money is collected at every wellhead, mine or port of entry and returned in equal amounts to each American adult, then I do not believe it would be regressive at all. While the price of electricity and fossil fuels will go up (which looks regressive at first blush), it is the wealthy who use more fossil fuels and products that include fossil fuels in their manufacture. Those who use the most fossil fuels and fossil fuel products will pay more than they get back in rebates, and the reverse true for those who are more fossil fuel efficient. I think most poorer people would be net winners under such a system.

        • Joan Savage says:

          Buzz Belleville,
          Hope you are right, though I have some doubts.
          Both you and I tended to shift over to Joe Romm’s preference for a tax on carbon extraction, while Bob Inglis proposed a tax on carbon emissions. Inglis’s proposal cuts some slack for carbon technology that is more efficient or has stack capture or sequestration. If emissions from point of extraction are included somehow that would really price the tar sands oil higher, even before combustion.

          A scale up of a carbon emissions tax over several years, one that leads complementary tax cuts by one revenue cycle, might avoid boom&bust on tax revenue.
          I’m still nervous about what this could mean for the 80% of Americans who don’t have much capital to invest in transition. Maybe folks will step up with ventures in electric mini-buses and rechargeable delivery vans; more home heating retrofits and the like. Buy American..

  16. Mark Shapiro says:

    Dear Representative Inglis,

    Thank you for your post, and for your explication of real conservative principles.

    As you can read above, we don’t generally strew rose petals in front of Republicans here. I appreciate your support for climate science and the need to tax carbon, but I am also saddened that you could not make these points from the Well of the House. And we all know how tough it is to even say “tax” in politics today, let alone actually raise them on anything (and that a lot of folks in the middle class would get hurt).

    Thanks for sounding a note of reason. It is refreshing — and rare — to put reason, science, and Republican in the same sentence.

  17. Mark Shapiro says:

    By the way, Representative Inglis, did you know and work with Representative Sherwood Boehlert of New York?

    I like him a lot.

  18. SecularAnimist says:

    With all due respect to Mr. Inglis, he is obsolete.

    In America today, “conservatism” is no longer an ideology or political philosophy — it is a cross between an entertainment demographic and a cult.

    And “conservative” means whatever the Koch Brothers pay Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to tell the Ditto-Heads it means on any given day.

  19. Paul Magnus says:

    Traditional Republicans Quietly Swim against the Tide
    quietly, many acknowledge a deepening GOP schism over the issue, as many moderates grow increasingly disturbed by their party’s denial of proven science.

    “My own opinion is that this problem is very real,” Shultz told National Journal. “I recognize there’s a lot of people pooh-poohing it. Whether they like the science or not, there’s a huge problem coming at us. There’s a huge melt coming in the Arctic regions. There’s melting taking place.” Of Republicans like Perry who deny climate science, he said, “They’re entitled to their opinion, but they’re not entitled to the facts.”
    http://goo.gl/M48QB

  20. Paul Magnus says:

    http://climatecrocks.com/2011/10/03/d-r-tucker-dawn-of-the-deniers/#more-6930

    Recently, a friend asked me if I still had any respect for the conservative op-ed columnists and talk-radio hosts I once admired, since so many of those pundits remain committed to the view that anthropogenic global warming is something Al Gore and Carol Browner cooked up to destroy free-market capitalism. “Let’s just say it’s getting a little harder to respect them,” I responded.

    I’ve reluctantly concluded that the conservative pundits who repeatedly and forcefully deny the accuracy of climate science will never change their views; on their deathbeds, they will mutter profanities about Ed Begley Jr. and Solyndra seconds before checking out.

  21. Michael Tucker says:

    Uh…Inglis has been replaced. He is an ex-House member. But his opening sentence lost me…we can count on conservatives for a lot of things but sticking to the facts has not been one. Name “some” who want to reduce income tax while “shifting an equal amount of tax to carbon dioxide emissions.” Name just one other conservative besides you. Can you name anyone in the Republican leadership in congress? Can you name any Republican who has introduced such a bill in congress? Oh, ask Romney again what his position on climate change is…you will not get the Huntsman answer. If you are truly concerned about “lung impairments” you should be contacting all the Republicans who are out to gut EPA and President Obama for backing down from the long overdue new ozone requirements. From beginning to end this piece is nothing more than BS.

    • Buzz Belleville says:

      Actually Mr. Tucker, just off the top of my head, senators Susan Collins, Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker and Lisa Mukowski have all supported a revenue-neutral carbon tax of some form.

      • Michael Tucker says:

        Well Inglis was very specific. He was not offering a range of “revenue-neutral carbon tax” options AND he said, very specifically, “some of us support…” sounds like he represents some kind of organized group of like minded thinkers who support his lopsided idea. Income tax deductions for the huge cohort who earn the minimum wage will not do much. They already pay very little in income tax. They pay all the other taxes but mercifully income tax is eliminated or substantially reduced. Then piling on a carbon tax that will increase utility costs, fuel and transportation costs; will accomplish what Republicans, conservatives, and death-tea party enthusiasts really want…put the cost on the poor.

        Inglis does not want government to regulate ozone or sulfur or mercury or lead or anything else. He doesn’t even know at what point in the process sulfur and mercury is removed from coal. He believes in magical coal “power turbines” that somehow burn hydrogen. He believes that somehow subsidies are holding back the savior nuclear industry. Inglis actually believes that if only government subsidies would get out of the way “Electric cars would rapidly penetrate the market — not because of clumsy government mandates or incentives, but because sharp entrepreneurs would be selling useful products to willing customers awakened by accountable pricing.” If Inglis really believes this: “We pay to protect the supply lines coming out of the Middle East through the blood of the country’s best and though the treasure that comes from our taxes or, worse, from deficit financing” I wonder how he feels about Keystone XL? I wonder if this means we will not be seeing Republican’s holding hands with Saudi kings any longer.

        Inglis will never be in favor of government regulations for clean air and water. He will be in favor of lame market solutions to encourage compliance. And you can bet, post elections, that the Republicans will engage in their favorite pastime of dismantling social programs including social security, Medicare, and the minimum wage along with family planning while continuing to destroy unions and public education…not ensuring clean water, not reducing premature heart attacks and reducing new asthma cases, not reducing ozone and particulates, and definitely not reducing GHG.

  22. dick smith says:

    Given him a break. We desperately need conservative leadership to anything of sclae. The man supports a variation on fee and dividend (in this case cutting income taxes instead of a direct dividend). This approach is better than Waxman/Markey’s cap and trade. It has a better chance to actually reduce emission and it can garner support from the real idiot conservatives who (unlike Christie, Huntsman and Romney) have painted themselves into a corner on climate science, Grover Norquist’s tax pledge and any form of new regulation. They don’t have to admit the science is right to support fee and dividend. They can do it for strategic defense reasons. It’s tax neutral. It’s not regulatory. It’s fine to be cynical, but let’s not trash those we can (and NEED TO) work with to, as Al Gore put it, “change laws, not lightbulbs.”

  23. nada says:

    Wow, this guy is more of a progressive and has more courage than our President, by FAR. If a Republican candidate for President came out and said these things, I might just vote for them. Can you even imagine Obama talking about the health effects of air pollution and the cost of environmental externalities? If this is the direction of the new Republican party, then we can start making some progress. Unfortunately, I sense we have a ways to go down before that can happen.

  24. I saw Rep. Inglis speak at the Google Science Communications Fellows meeting in June and chatted with him afterwards. He seemed genuine to me. His evolution on this topic came about because his son said “if you want my vote, you’re going to need to say and do something about climate”. That got his attention, and he started educating himself on the topic.

    He also was the victim of the unreality crowd– he lost his seat in Congress because of his change of heart on climate. He’s a conservative guy by any measure, and he could have just kept doing what he was doing, but he decided this issue was too important. So I admire him for speaking out, especially because he did so before he lost his seat.

  25. Mr.Mom says:

    You keep saying that word conservative, I do not think it means what you think it means.

  26. Tim Kelly says:

    I know Inglis isn’t perfect, but he did a great job in co-chairing the “Rational Discussion of Climate Change” hearing before the House Science and Technology Subcommittee last November 17th (available in C-Span’s archives). The guy showed up with an egg in vinegar solution, to try to illustrate the effects of ocean acidification. We should encourage him to continue to speak out. He grasps the seriousness of the siutation, which is more than I can say for most of the rest of Congress.

  27. Buzz Belleville says:

    Ms. Savage — If it’s a truly revenue-neutral carbon tax, where money is collected at every wellhead, mine or port of entry and returned in equal amounts to each American adult, then I do not believe it would be regressive at all. While the price of electricity and fossil fuels will go up (which looks regressive at first blush), it is the wealthy who use more fossil fuels and products that include fossil fuels in their manufacture. Those who use the most fossil fuels and fossil fuel products will pay more than they get back in rebates, and the reverse true for those who are more fossil fuel efficient. I think most poorer people would be net winners under such a system.

    • Joan Savage says:

      I see you re-posted. I replied to your earlier copy, and my response is pending moderation.
      Here’s hoping for a good outcome..