Former South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis is unabashedly, unapologetically conservative -- pro-life, praised by the NRA, in favor of "draconian" Paul Ryan budget cuts. When he first entered Congress in 1993, he thought talk of climate change was nonsense.
"That was really out of ignorance," Inglis said during a meeting with Gazette staff last week. "I just knew if Al Gore was for it, then I was against it."
Then, his son turned 18 and agreed to vote for Inglis, but only if Dad cleaned up his act on climate change. "I discovered a whole new constituency," he said. Also, as a member of Congress he twice had the opportunity to travel to Antarctica, where he saw and was moved by evidence of warming.
In 2010, a combination of frustration with the economy and displeasure with his position on climate change prompted South Carolina voters to dump him. Now he is executive director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University. He travels around talking, often to conservative groups, about the need for a solution on emissions from burning carbon fuels that have increased over the centuries and that contribute to global warming and climate change. He wants conservatives to stop ignoring the problem and be part of the solution.
"We're the kid in class who needs to raise his hand because we know the answer," he said. "It's free enterprise."
Inglis advocates abolishing all energy subsidies, including under-market leases on federal lands, and putting a tax on carbon at the source -- such as mines and wells. The tax would reflect all the costs that aren't included in the price of energy now -- including health and environmental costs. If the cost of high-carbon energy rose, people would have incentive to innovate and find cleaner, cheaper forms of energy, he said.
Such a tax should be revenue-neutral, he said. The goal is not to collect more money, but to make the price of energy accurately reflect the cost of producing it. Other taxes should be cut to make up for it, such as corporate income taxes, personal income taxes or FICA withholdings.
Under such a system, Inglis foresees a day when the Clean Air Act could be repealed as redundant. Import tariffs could be set up so that taxes come off when other countries, such as China and India, make a similar change regarding carbon.
Would this idea work? It's certainly simpler than cap-and-trade. A state like West Virginia would have to be ready to help people displaced by higher energy costs -- even in the short term -- and not just in the coal industry. When energy prices go up, all industries pay -- and cut back. On the other hand, there is no reason why West Virginians couldn't design and manufacture goods needed in the future Inglis imagines.
In any case, Inglis is right about the need for people -- of any party -- to stop running away from science. The nation needs leaders to take climate change seriously and find a solution.