Republicans can help propose solutions to climate change that are compatable with their conservative market values, said Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina, at a talk attended by about 30 students and community members in Wilson Hall Tuesday night.
Since he lost the Republican primaries in his 2010 reelection bid, Inglis has been serving as the executive director at the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, an organization he helped found focused on finding free-enterprise solutions to climate change. As part of his role as executive director, Inglis has been promoting the notion that conservatives can help solve the country’s energy problems.
“I’m hoping that you can help me spread the idea that, really, climate change is something that is uniquely suited to conservatives,” Inglis said.
Economic conservatism stresses the “efficient allocation” of resources with “minimal distortions,” Inglis said, adding that the negative externalities caused by environmental pollution and climate change actually run counter to conservative economic ideals.
“We have the answer to climate change in bedrock conservatism,” Inglis said. “One of the key things about being conservative is trusting markets to work and deliver efficient outcomes.”
During the talk, Inglis articulated a plan he said he hopes can serve as a politically soluble answer to some of the country’s environmental problems. Among other measures, the plan eliminates all fuel subsidies and attaches all external costs to the price of fuels, most likely in the form of a tax.
“We should make coal and other fuels fully accountable for their emissions,” Inglis said.
One of the largest hurdles to convincing conservatives of plans like this, Inglis said, is Republicans’ fear of government spending and tax increases.
“The only way I can start the conversation among my ex-peers on the right is that this plan is revenue-neutral,” he said. “This is not rogue government spending.”
To make policies like a carbon tax more palatable to conservatives, Inglis’s plan includes a proposal to cut taxes in other places. “If we’re going to attach the cost in a tax, we’re going to pair it with a dollar-per-dollar reduction in another tax — something like an income tax, a corporate tax,” he said.
Granting conservatives discretion on where to allocate the tax cuts could also jumpstart the political conversation about climate change, Inglis said.
Inglis also proposed to make the tax in his plan border-adjustable — imposing a similar tax on imports to answer concerns about the trade repercussions of such a policy.
“If you’re going to decimate American manufacturing, this is a non-starter,” Inglis said. “If you export the productive capacity, not only have you lost American jobs, you’ve gone doubly downhill by further increasing global emissions.”
Katie McKeen ’15, who attended the event, said Inglis helped illuminate a political argument she had not encountered before.
“It was great hearing for once how conservatism doesn’t necessarily mean ignorance,” McKeen said. “He still has a very rational approach to politics, and even if you don’t agree with it, you still respect it.”
The talk was co-sponsored by the Brown Republicans, Brown emPOWER, Rhode Island Student Climate Coalition and the Taubman Center for Public Policy.