Former congressman Bob Inglis wants Republicans to know that caring about climate change isn’t just for liberals.
Inglis said that Republicans typically view climate change from a liberal lens, thinking it means doing with less and overthrowing the current system. His philosophy is far different.
“We come along and we say ‘Actually, what we’re talking about is more energy, more mobility and more freedom,'" he said. "We’re talking about lighting up the world.’”
Inglis visited the University on Wednesday to speak about his "conservative, free-enterprise approach to climate change." His talk was held as part of a speaker series hosted by the UNC Institute of Politics.
Inglis represented South Carolina in the House of Representatives from 1993 to 1998 and again from 2005 to 2011. In 2009, he introduced the Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. The following year, he lost his seat in a runoff election — but he doesn’t regret introducing the bill.
“In a contest between the enduring admiration of my kids and the temporary affection of the political crowd, I know I chose the better because it is a very temporary love affair that constituents have with a politician,” Inglis said.
After his loss, Inglis went on to found the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University, which has since rebranded as "republicEn."
“We picked up the ‘En’ for energy, enterprise and environment," Inglis said. “We say we’re so different we even spell it a little differently.”
RepublicEn is a nonprofit advocacy group focused on bringing conservatives into the climate change movement and promoting free enterprise as a solution to global warming.
Anders Pokela, policy research and programming director for the UNC Young Democrats, said he’s glad to see awareness for climate change growing on the other side of the aisle.
“There are very few Republicans who will take such a stand and who are willing to lose their job fighting for climate change policy,” Pokela said. “I think that it's definitely refreshing to know that there is someone on the right that's fighting for this issue and trying to bring awareness to his fellow Republicans.”
Joseph Buckner, chairperson of UNC’s College Republicans, said in an email that he agrees that conservatives need a free enterprise, economically-sound approach to fighting climate change.
“Until we can sit at the table and show fighting climate change is good for our market and economy, many people will not get on board,” Buckner said.
Inglis said that most Republicans who believe in climate change tend to support subsidies like tax credits for electric cars or for solar power. Instead, Inglis and his group advocate for eliminating subsidies and instead taxing pollution.
“No more of the biggest subsidy of them all — the granddaddy of them all — which is being able to dump into the trash dump of the sky without paying a tipping fee for the space you’re taking up,” Inglis said.
Inglis supports a carbon tax that charges businesses for their emissions. But he said he has two important conservative conditions for this tax — revenue neutrality and border-adjustability.
Revenue neutrality means that the government will not make money off any carbon tax. Instead, other taxes will be cut or the revenue will be distributed back to the people.
“The problem with a carbon tax by itself is it is most certainly regressive," Inglis said. "It hurts poor people unless you do something with the revenue that adjusts that. One way to adjust it is to cut the payroll tax.”
Border-adjustability is where Inglis’ plan goes global. Under his plan, imports from countries that don’t have a carbon tax similar to the U.S. will be taxed accordingly. Other countries, not wanting to pay taxes on their imports to the U.S., would enact similar carbon taxes causing global emissions to plummet.
“This is very important for conservatives — no international agreements, no U.N., no bowing and scraping and no protracted negotiations,” Inglis said. “We’re using the power of our marketplace.”
Meagan Watson, director of speaker series at the Institute of Politics, said that she was glad to have a speaker who could provide a nuanced approach to a polarizing issue.
“We strive to bring people from both sides of the aisle to talk about hot topic events because we are hoping to draw deeper discussion,” Watson said. “Having a non-partisan outlook on things allows for people to always feel accepted.”
Inglis said that he hopes to change the daunting perception of climate change and get people excited about clean energy.
“It’s gonna be a different world and a very much better world,” Inglis said. “That's our message — it's gonna be exciting, it’s not doom and gloom, this is an incredible opportunity.”
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