Free-Enterprise Solutions to Climate Change, with Bob Inglis

September 29, 2017

Bob Inglis. CREDIT: Amanda Ghanooni

STEPHANIE SY: Hi, I'm Stephanie Sy, and this is Ethics Matter.

Our guest today is Bob Inglis, a conservative Republican who is here to share his perspective on climate change. Bob was formerly a U.S. congressman from South Carolina. After he was unseated in a primary election in 2010, he launched the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University and republicEn.org, which aimed to demonstrate the "power of free enterprise to address climate change."

Bob, it is so nice to meet you. Thanks for being here.

BOB INGLIS: Great to be with you. Thanks.

STEPHANIE SY: When did you decide to take a stand on climate change, and why?

BOB INGLIS: For my first six years in Congress, I said it was nonsense.

STEPHANIE SY: You said it was nonsense?

BOB INGLIS: Yes. I had no idea of anything about it except that Al Gore was for it, and that was the end of the inquiry because I represented a pretty conservative district in South Carolina, Greenville-Spartanburg. That was my first six years in Congress. I just said it was nonsense.

Then I was out for six years, doing commercial real estate law again in Greenville, South Carolina. Then I was running again in 2004, and my son came to me. He is the oldest of our five kids.

STEPHANIE SY: How old was he at the time?

BOB INGLIS: He just turned 18, so he is voting for the first time. He said to me, "Dad, I'll vote for you, but you're going to clean up your act on the environment."

It was the first of a three-step metamorphosis for me. By the way, he was going to vote for me, no matter what. He was not making a classic interest group threat. He knew that we were mortgaging the farmette that we live on, so he was going to vote for me. What if I had lost by one vote?

STEPHANIE SY: But he wanted to make a point to his father.

BOB INGLIS: I think what he was saying really was, "Dad, I love you, and you can be better than you were before, so how about make this Inglis 2.0, the new-and-improved version? Let's do better this time around."

STEPHANIE SY: That is such the language of an 18-year-old, by the way.

BOB INGLIS: Yes. And his four sisters agreed, his mother agreed—an important new constituency. Those people can change the locks on the doors, so you have to respond to that constituency.

STEPHANIE SY: What was his pitch to you? "Dad, why should you care about the environment?"

BOB INGLIS: He is really quite the outdoors guy. I guess we raised him that way and participated with him in a lot of that stuff. He just said, "You know, come on, get with it."

That is what it takes sometimes for us to break out of a pattern we are in. So he heard the things I was saying about climate change, and he said, "Come on, that's just not right."

STEPHANIE SY: What were you saying about climate change? Were you a denier?

BOB INGLIS: Oh, yes. I said it was nonsense. I did not know anything about it, like I said, except that Al Gore was for it, but that was the end of the inquiry because politically it was a problem. Al Gore had staked out that territory. We conservatives apparently did not have a solution, and so when you do not have a solution, you doubt the existence of the problem, right?

That was the first step. The second step was going to Antarctica with the Science Committee and seeing the evidence in the ice core drillings. That evidence is basically this: In the ice cores that we pull up out of the ice in the Antarctica, we've got a great record of the Earth's atmosphere, and we can see the CO2 levels. If you look at the increase in CO2 that comes with the Industrial Revolution, and then track temperature and CO2 levels, they track almost precisely. What it clearly shows is some science that is really pretty settled—this part of it is quite settled—that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere create warming.

By the way, Stephanie, none of the skeptics would deny what I am saying here. This is not the point of disputation. They would accept that. What they doubt is the model's ability to project the future.

So I saw that evidence in Antarctica, I saw the evidence of the CO2 rises.

The third step was another Science Committee trip to the Great Barrier Reef, snorkeling with an Aussie climate scientist named Scott Heron, and I could see that he was worshiping God in what he was showing me. So I knew, before any words were spoken, that we shared a worldview.

STEPHANIE SY: Can you pause for just a second? The way you phrased that was so interesting, that you "could see he was worshiping God." What did you mean by that?

BOB INGLIS: It was written all over his face; it was in his voice, it was in his eyes, that he was just exalting God for what he was showing me. In other words, those are gloriously beautiful corals, but you could tell he was not worshiping the corals, he was worshiping the God behind the corals.

Later, we had a chance to talk, and he told me about conservation changes he is making in his life, in order to love God, love people. When you are with Scott, you take the escalator if it is running, otherwise you take the stairs, you do not take the elevator. He rides his bike to work. He tries to do without air conditioning in a hot place, Jonesville, Australia.

STEPHANIE SY: For him, this is about caring for God's creation, is that what you are saying?

BOB INGLIS: Yes, and loving people who will come after us. So I got right inspired. I thought, I want to be like Scott.

STEPHANIE SY: I assume you're a Christian.

BOB INGLIS: I want to be like Scott, loving God and loving people.

So I came home and introduced the Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act of 2009.

STEPHANIE SY: Talk about that.

BOB INGLIS: It got me in some trouble.

STEPHANIE SY: Talk about what the Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act entailed.

BOB INGLIS: It was basically a revenue-neutral (that sounds like government-speak) border-adjustable (another government-speak) carbon tax. The part that is hard to get across is the carbon tax, because who wants another tax? But the important thing to focus on is that it is revenue-neutral and border-adjustable. Revenue-neutral means we are going to cut taxes somewhere else, or we are going to dividend all the tax revenue from the carbon tax back to the taxpayers. And then, border-adjustable means that it is applied to imports as though they were made here, so it does not disadvantage American manufacturing.

But that bill got me in some trouble, as you know.

STEPHANIE SY: So it was 2009, and you introduced that bill, and you were running for reelection in 2010 against a primary challenger?

BOB INGLIS: Right.

STEPHANIE SY: This was part of your platform, a revenue-neutral carbon tax, as a Republican?

BOB INGLIS: Right.

STEPHANIE SY: So what happened?

BOB INGLIS: Well, it did not go too well.

STEPHANIE SY: You lost?

BOB INGLIS: Yes, badly. After 12 years in Congress, I got 29 percent of the vote. The other guy, Trey Gowdy, got 71 percent of the vote, which makes for a rather spectacular face plant. After 12 years, you usually do not get just 29 percent of the vote.

By the way, I had committed some other heresies against the orthodoxy at the time. I was for comprehensive immigration reform, I voted against the troop surge in Iraq because I had conservative concerns about nation-building in Iraq, I voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which cannot be forgiven by the Tea Party.

STEPHANIE SY: And Trey Gowdy was very much supported by the Tea Party and was part of that wave of Tea Party candidates that came in. It was not just you in 2010.

BOB INGLIS: Right. By the way, I do not think that is where he started, but I think that is where he ended up. He started out as a very reasonable fellow.

STEPHANIE SY: So there were some other political headwinds.

But you took a stand on climate change, and what was interesting is that since then, when I look at your résumé, you have almost solely devoted yourself now to this issue.

BOB INGLIS: That's right.

STEPHANIE SY: Is that the fourth part of the three-part evolution?

BOB INGLIS: Maybe so. Yes, having been burned at the stake as a heretic, I am still alive, and I am out on Main Street saying, "It isn't a heresy. There is actually a conservative solution to climate change."

What happened in the Great Recession—and this is different now—when I was getting tossed out, it was in the darkest days of the Great Recession. The financial collapse started happening in October of 2008. In 2009 we are deep in the recession, and I am introducing the Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act of 2009. In 2010 comes the primary challenge, and the Tea Party is now born.

In the midst of that, it appeared that I had crossed to the other team, that I was marching with Al Gore and had abandoned the team. Even though I had committed some other heresies, this was the most enduring heresy, just saying that "climate change is real and let's do something about it," because it did appear that I had betrayed the tribe.

But things are different now. Yes, I was taken out in that primary. But what we live to say now to fellow conservatives is that it is different, because now the recession is behind us, people are being taught about climate change—the fires, the temperatures, the intensity of the storms, the intense rainfalls. So acceptance of the science is going up, after going down because of the Great Recession, and now we have an opportunity. That is what we are trying to convince fellow conservative officeholders of.

STEPHANIE SY: How are you doing that?

BOB INGLIS: Things are coming along with young conservatives, young evangelicals; harder with their parents, and it is really pretty tough with their grandparents. So what we hope—and plan and can see evidence of—is that young people will affect their parents and grandparents, just like my son affected me.

STEPHANIE SY: I interviewed George Shultz recently.

BOB INGLIS: Wonderful fellow.

STEPHANIE SY: He is in his 90s. He had a very similar story about how his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren, and seeing them makes him also advocate for action on climate change. He happens, as you know, to also advocate for a carbon tax, in his case, he advocates for a carbon tax and dividend plan.

I want to get more into that. But, first, let's talk more about the politics and the divisions that occurred.

Do you mark the time as when climate change became politicized with Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth? When do you think that happened, where it became such a polarizing political issue?

BOB INGLIS: It is probably a little bit after the film. The film was successful. I do not know that Al Gore intended for it to become divisive, but sadly it did.

The real dating of this problem starts in 2008, because in early 2008 Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House at that point, was on the couch literally with Nancy Pelosi in an ad.

Nancy says, "We don't agree on much, do we, Newt?"

"No, we don't, Nancy. But we agree that climate change is real and we've got to do something about it."

That was early 2008.

STEPHANIE SY: Wow.

BOB INGLIS: By the end of 2008, Newt Gingrich was saying that climate change was not real. So was Mitt Romney. So was John Boehner. They had switched their positions from early 2008.

So what is it that happened? I think it is the Great Recession that happened. What happened is that in October 2008 the wheels are coming off the financial system. Some people saw their opportunity. They saw the high tide coming of discontent and distrust as we were adding yet another institution to the list of institutions we do not trust. The government was on the list already, the church was on the list, now we were adding banks to the list. So on that very high tide of discontent and distrust, some people came along and spent some well-timed campaign money to create a wave against climate change, and it came over the seawall and shorted out all the climate-change equipment. We have been bailing ever since. Really 2008 is when this happened.

STEPHANIE SY: Who are these people you are talking about?

BOB INGLIS: They are some people with some money and some vested interests.

STEPHANIE SY: Are you talking about the Koch brothers?

BOB INGLIS: The Koch brothers apparently have some industries that would not do well in a carbon-constrained world.

STEPHANIE SY: You are saying they took advantage of that period when the nation was reeling from the financial crisis to pour money toward campaigns that then came out and said, "We don't believe in climate change. We don't believe this is happening. We don't need to do anything about it."

BOB INGLIS: Right. Because what happened was in early 2008 it was okay—Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Newt Gingrich, people like me—to be saying, "We think climate change is real. We don't believe in it. We just accept the data. Our faith tells us how to react to the data." There was acceptance of the climate science at the beginning of 2008. At the end of 2008, no more.

STEPHANIE SY: It happened just like that.

BOB INGLIS: Right.

STEPHANIE SY: It seemed to happen overnight.

BOB INGLIS: Yes, it did. Of course, a lot of people attribute this solely to the campaign cash. But I think that is a mistake.

The most important thing to watch is the level of the tide. If you have a high tide of discontent like that, you can spend just a little bit of money and create a nice wave that will come over the seawall. But if the tide is low—for example, if in 2008 people had trusted the government and trusted institutions, all that campaign cash would have created a little ripple on the water, it would not have come over the seawall. Therefore, campaign cash is not the most important thing. It is a factor, but the real big determinant is how much trust we, as the American people, have in our government's ability to gather us together and solve really big challenges.

STEPHANIE SY: People were worried that government could not do that?

BOB INGLIS: That's right, and that is what we have to rebuild.

STEPHANIE SY: But I think when people hear that politicians and their political positions can be so easily bought, that makes them have even less trust in the ability of government to solve things like climate change.

BOB INGLIS: Right. There is a negative-feedback loop here.

STEPHANIE SY: Yes. There is a negative-feedback loop, exactly.

BOB INGLIS: So it is a bad thing. But somehow we have to break that cycle and we have to say, "You know, we really can solve big challenges."

STEPHANIE SY: How do we break the cycle?

BOB INGLIS: I think it starts with just some principles, just looking for some North Stars. What we say to fellow conservatives is, "We've got a North Star. We know what to do here." The thing to do is to make it apparent in the marketplace what the costs of energy are, and eliminate all the subsidies, and have a level playing field and a strong competition. If you do that, we can fix climate change. That is what needs to be done.

STEPHANIE SY: Let's parse that argument out a little bit. So if we were to get rid of all energy subsidies today, what would happen, and how would the market figure it out in a way that would reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change?

BOB INGLIS: For example, we at republicEn.org would say, "No more electric car credits. No more production tax credit for wind. No more investment tax credits for solar. Certainly no more direct subsidies like Solyndra was. No more"—and then this gets a little bit dicier when we are talking to fellow conservatives—"under-market leases on public land for the extraction of minerals."

STEPHANIE SY: Which benefits the fossil fuel industry.

BOB INGLIS: Right. Pay the market rate for those things, not 1872 Mining Law. Let's go with market rates right now.

Then we get to the hardest one: No more of the biggest subsidy of them all—and really it is the granddaddy subsidy, bigger than all the ones I have just mentioned—which is the ability for me at Inglis Industries Coal-Fired Electricity to just let my soot and my CO2 go into the atmosphere without any accountability.

STEPHANIE SY: Why is that a subsidy?

BOB INGLIS: Because it lets me put that cost onto society and not keep it on my product and reflect it in my product's price.

STEPHANIE SY: Again, you knew that was going to be a tricky one, and where I would challenge you because, how do you calculate that cost to society?

BOB INGLIS: That is hard. The calculation is hard. But if we get into a debate about that calculation and through the denial, we would be popping champagne corks at republicEn.org, right?— because we would have been successful then. Because then we would be through the denial and into that debate, and it is a big debate.

STEPHANIE SY: The Party is not through the denial.

BOB INGLIS: No, we are still in it. But the important thing is, you know, we have some allies in this.

Like Milton Friedman, one of the fathers of modern conservatism. On The Phil Donahue Show in 1979, he was asked by Phil Donahue, "What do you do about pollution, Dr. Friedman?"—you know, Mr. Conservative.

Milton Friedman, sitting there with his Adam Smith tie on, says, "Well, you tax it, of course. You tax pollution." Then he goes on very eloquently to explain—if you are a conservative, you really hear it—that you have to put the cost in on all the products and then have the market judge those products—with consumers, in the liberty of enlightened self-interest, choosing the product based on its actual cost.

You see, if I am Inglis Coal-Fired Electricity, I'm selling you electricity that looks cheap when it comes to your power meter. But what is not reflected on there is the people who are coughing up their lungs at the hospital because of my soot that I'm getting away with socializing and the cost I am putting on future generations for the climate change. If you make me accountable for that, I am going to be heard to complain to a local member of Congress, "What a terrible idea. It is going to make my prices go up, and Stephanie ain't gonna like it because you're gonna pay more for your electricity."

Someday, conservatives are going to say to me at Inglis Coal-Fired Electricity, "Inglis, we're already paying the full cost of your supposedly cheap electricity. It isn't cheap."

So now level the playing field and compete with wind and solar, and you know what? Wind and solar would beat me. Bad for me.

STEPHANIE SY: Because wind and solar don't have the social cost and the health cost, the literal health-care costs of treating people with asthma or other health issues that might arise from pollution from fossil fuels.

BOB INGLIS: Correct.

STEPHANIE SY: Then the market would do its "invisible hand" thing, and solar and wind and renewable energies without those accompanying costs would rise.

BOB INGLIS: And without regulations and without clumsy mandates and without fickle tax incentives, would just compete, and they would win. Like I say, it's bad for me at Inglis Coal-Fired Electricity, it stinks for me. But right now, it stinks for all my neighbors up around my plant and stinks for society. So make me accountable.

What we would say to those people who are putting out the campaign cash is, "What I have just described is rock-solid conservatism, Milton Friedman."

STEPHANIE SY: But it hurts those businesses.

BOB INGLIS: Right.

STEPHANIE SY: It hurts the Koch Industries business, and as much as they are conservatives, they are also capitalists.

BOB INGLIS: Right. I want to challenge them to live what they say they believe. They say they are libertarians. I am a Republican, but I have great respect for libertarians. Libertarians firmly believe, as we Republicans do, that you have to have a transparent, accountable marketplace where all costs are in, all subsidies are out.

So now, if your products at Georgia Pacific or wherever can't make it in that competition, well, we are sorry for you. But across town there is some gal or some guy who has a competing product that does not have those negative effects, what economists call "negative externalities," that I am currently getting away with at Inglis Coal-Fired Electricity.

STEPHANIE SY: It is so interesting because these staunch Republicans—they call themselves "conservative" Republicans, whether in Congress or whether it be the Koch brothers—in many ways are benefiting from what you are calling subsidies. Is it that they do not agree those are subsidies?

BOB INGLIS: They would dispute the climate damages. They would say right now the price is set at zero on climate damages. It has got to be north of zero, right?

But the thing they really cannot dispute—and this is where we have some effectiveness in reaching into this debate—is you cannot dispute the health costs. Like you were saying earlier, those are real and quantifiable and immediate. Not much projection going on there. Just go to the pulmonologist and ask him, "How many patients have you been seeing, and what is the cause of it?" They will tell you, "Well, if the wind is not clearing fast enough from west to east, my patients end up in the emergency room with asthma attacks." Those are real and quantifiable, and they should be on the meter at Inglis Coal-Fired Electricity. So I am accountable for that.

Our conservative friends who dispute climate science cannot dispute that. Once they philosophically agree with us that that should be part of the debate, then we can go on to say, "Okay, now, climate damages, how much are they?" They want to say "zero." We say, "Come on, it's way north of zero."

STEPHANIE SY: So you would like to start with the public health impacts, be able to quantify it, be able to put a price on that, a cost on that, go back to the fossil fuel industry and say, "Let's tax your product because your product actually has this cost."

BOB INGLIS: Right. And surprisingly, there are some people who are for that.

For example, ExxonMobil is for what I'm talking about here. Rex Tillerson said it when he was their CEO. Darren Woods, their current CEO, who replaced Rex Tillerson, reiterated the position of the company, that a revenue-neutral, border-adjustable carbon tax is what they support.

STEPHANIE SY: Why would a fossil fuel company agree to a tax on their product?

BOB INGLIS: Two reasons. One, they prefer it to a regulatory answer. The Clean Power Plan was President Obama's regulatory answer. They found that difficult. It is better for them and better for industry if, "Just give me the price, and then I can build it into my products and I can figure out"—

STEPHANIE SY: Because they are looking at long time horizons. They do not want to see regulations coming and going from presidential term to presidential term.

BOB INGLIS: Correct. That uncertainty is death to a business. So they do not like the regulatory uncertainty and they would prefer the certainty of a price signal.

The second thing is, frankly, ExxonMobil makes a lot of money in natural gas. Again, if I'm Inglis Coal-Fired Electricity, I'm competing right now with natural gas, and it's beating me because natural gas is cleaner. It has some fugitive emission of methane, which is a problem, but if that can be controlled then it burns so much cleaner than my coal, has fewer small particulates, and has 50 percent less CO2 emitted. So if you put a price on carbon dioxide, do this carbon tax, ExxonMobil sells a lot more natural gas and they would really put me out of business at Inglis Coal-Fired Electricity. That is why they are also for a carbon tax, which we think is great.

At republicEn.org we say, "Great. They are going to make money serving customers, reducing CO2. And if you can do that, well, more power to you."

It is like when whale oil went out, the whale oil people cried, but the rest of society said, "Listen, we do not want to decimate all the whales. Let's not kill all the whales off, and, hey, we got cleaner ways than burning that whale oil in our houses."

When innovation happens, there are losers, but society is the big winner, and that is what we hope to bring on at republicEn.org.

STEPHANIE SY: So right now what has happened? I understand cap and trade, which Obama tried to posit in legislation failed under Obama, and that is when he went to Clear Power Plan regulations. So what we have now is we still continue to have federal subsidies for renewable energy.

What I am seeing—and Morgan Stanley's and other research has backed this up—is that renewable energy is actually becoming cheaper than fossil fuels in many markets and pockets of this country and around the world. Is that happening because of subsidies? What is the harm in that, short of any massive carbon tax plan being adopted by Congress?

BOB INGLIS: Early adoption is expensive. If you are the first one with a solar panel, it is pretty expensive. But then you get to scale and the price comes down, and that is what has happened in solar and it is happening in wind. So yes, they are getting closer and closer to being able to compete without the subsidies.

STEPHANIE SY: But the subsidies got them there?

BOB INGLIS: Yes, the subsidies helped in that early adoption process. You can surely argue that that was helpful, and I would not dispute that—we do not dispute that at republicEn.org.

But going forward, the most efficient way to deal with it—and I think really most economists would agree with this, whether they are left, right, or center—is if you just put the price in on it, eliminate the subsidies, then the price signal is a much more effective and efficient way of dealing with this, rather than trying to, for example, give wind a production tax credit. I think they are two years into a five-year extension, so three years from now they face another death.

STEPHANIE SY: Potentially, unless the market by then has already taken off. And, like you said, even without the subsidies, wind and solar and technology around those energies actually make them, in fact, more affordable in the market.

BOB INGLIS: Right. And, of course, an important thing to point out is when we talk about this, a lot of people do think the carbon tax is very large. But let's quantify it so that we can see what it is. If you are talking a $25-per-ton price on carbon dioxide, which is where a lot of people start—some people go to $40—it is a $0.25 per gallon increase in the price of gasoline. If it is a $40-per-ton price of carbon dioxide, it is a $0.40 increase in a gallon of gasoline. At the $25-a-ton level, it is $0.01-0.02 per kilowatt-hour on your electricity. So this is not a massive tax. It is a signal that makes it so that competing new technologies, new energy systems, become economic. Right now they are not economic because at Inglis Coal-Fired Electricity I am getting away with socializing my soot.

So the carbon tax would be applied presumably at the mine and at the pipeline, so there would be fewer than 2,000 taxpayers contacted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or whoever is doing the tax. It would be administratively quite simple.

Now, the problem, the challenge politically, is that the prices of things go up downstream—of gasoline, of electricity, of plastics.

STEPHANIE SY: Everything that uses all of those, which is everything we consume, practically.

BOB INGLIS: Right, all of that. So what we would say is, "That's not artificial. That is just going to true costing," which, again, we as conservatives really believe in.

STEPHANIE SY: What is true cost?

BOB INGLIS: It means that you do not get away with socializing externalities, you are accountable for those.

STEPHANIE SY: So you account for health costs, you account for environmental costs.

BOB INGLIS: Climate damages. You account for those things. And in the case of wind, we have some folks, friendly competitors, on the Right who say, "Well, what about the birds who are killed by wind?" This is true. They should have to pay a penalty for those birds that are killed. In other words, that is an externality associated with the production of wind. Pay for it. Count it in.

Count all those things in, and then you have a level playing field, and then watch the free enterprise system deliver innovation.

STEPHANIE SY: What about in the short term and the rise in those costs? Research has shown that people who are on the lower end of the income spectrum, for example, pay more of a proportion of their income toward energy costs, and $0.25 more per gallon could actually really hit them in the pocketbook.

BOB INGLIS: It does. The carbon tax by itself hurts poor people more than it hurts wealthy people, if it is just a bald-faced carbon tax. In other words, by itself it would be what economists would call "regressive"—it hurts poor people more than wealthy people.

But, depending on the tax that you cut with that imposition of the new carbon tax, you can take away the regressivity of it. So, for example, if you cut the payroll tax, the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes that we all pay—it is the 6.2 percent that we pay, comes out of our check and is shown on our paycheck, 6.2 percent that the employer pays that is not on the paycheck, so it is a total of a 12.4 percent tax—it is a whopping, very regressive tax because the first dollar we make is taxed at 12.4 percent.

If you reduce that tax and put on a carbon tax, the Congressional Budget Office says the bottom 70 percent of Americans do better under that carbon tax scenario than under the current scenario. Reason? You cannot evade the payroll tax unless you become an illegal employer and an illegal employee. But you can evade the carbon tax—you can turn the thermostat down, you can put plastic on your windows in the winter, you can carpool, you can do things. So it is really a better system for the bottom 70 percent.

The top 30 percent would pay more in a carbon tax and payroll tax swap because their payroll taxes cap out at somewhere around $118,000, and they have big houses and heated pools and fly on corporate jets. To which we say at republicEn.org, "Bless you. If you have a corporate jet, we're all for you."

STEPHANIE SY: It would also really change the government sector, which is a huge energy consumer, I imagine, and that would be a huge signal for innovation.

BOB INGLIS: Yes, anytime you have big entities like that. That is one of the reasons that the Air Force is so interested in figuring out ways to get fuels that do not have the CO2 footprint that they currently have because they are a big user of petroleum.

STEPHANIE SY: Yes. The Department of Defense is, I believe, the largest government sector as far as energy, and they have looked at climate change and their own goals.

On your website, republicEn.org, it says, "To make a difference, we have to fight climate change with free enterprise instead of ineffective subsidies and regulation." Do you think that free-market solutions can really take the place of all environmental regulations?

BOB INGLIS: No, certainly not all. For example, the Clean Air Act: If I'm Inglis Coal-Fired Electricity, yes, I'm regulated, and some of those regulations need to stay in place, but some of them can be replaced by a pricing mechanism, a carbon tax. So what we would say is repeal some of those regulations—not the entirety of the Clean Air Act, because across town there is someone else who is making a chemical that is regulated by the Clean Air Act, and surely we want to keep that in place. It is just that some parts of the Clean Air Act would become redundant by a pricing of carbon dioxide because it becomes a proxy for those pollutants to put a price on carbon dioxide.

STEPHANIE SY: You mentioned natural gas, and you pointed out that it is cleaner than fossil fuels. But most environmentalists that I have interviewed do not consider natural gas to be anywhere near able to, for example—let's just use the Paris targets as an arbitrary target, if you will—lower greenhouse gas emissions in this country. Natural gas is not going to get us there.

BOB INGLIS: It is not the end-all. It is surely not the end-all. But natural gas is a huge step forward. It is why the United States has had real success in bringing down CO2 emissions. It is because of fracking, it is because of the expanded supply of natural gas that brought down price.

STEPHANIE SY: But with fracking there are also environmental concerns as well, with the extraction of natural gas using fracking.

BOB INGLIS: That is something serious that we have to deal with. Fugitive emissions are a problem. It is great that ExxonMobil, again, has been here recently saying that they are initiating a program to make sure they are checking their lines more carefully and are doing everything they can to prevent those. They have a financial incentive, of course, to keep it in their pipes. But, if that financial incentive is not enough, then perhaps you do have to regulate pipelines—we do regulate, and it does make sense to regulate pipelines. So fugitive emissions are a problem.

But in the meantime, if you can get it successfully into the pipeline, and if the pipeline is sound, when it gets to the end—what you have, for example, in my home state of South Carolina are six coal-fired plants that have converted, or are in the process of converting, to natural gas. We have 50 percent less CO2 coming out of those stacks, we have fewer small particulates, we are breathing a lot better in South Carolina.

STEPHANIE SY: That's great.

BOB INGLIS: So it is bringing down the CO2 footprint. Now, it does not get us all the way there. If I had to guess, I am thinking that better batteries and better solar and distributed energy systems of the future, where it is microgrids, are probably what the play is going to be.

I cannot predict that for sure, and at republicEn.org, we do not want to determine that, we do not want to say the government should pick that. We say, "Level the playing field and compete." But the competitors that I would put my teeny bit of personal money on would be probably the solar and the battery people.

STEPHANIE SY: Would you say that there should be expanded infrastructure, though, on the natural gas area? For example, Keystone XL, would you be for that?

BOB INGLIS: We are strange in the environmental space at republicEn.org. We are for fracking. We are for Keystone. What else are we for that might be unusual? We are definitely for nuclear, we think that nuclear is a great way to make electricity. But on the pipeline, the reason we are for that—if somebody wants to build that white elephant, I'd say go right ahead. We'll have some construction jobs created. But if we are successful in putting this price on carbon dioxide, that stuff you are putting in from Canada, that needs to be cooked all the way, is going to be disadvantaged by that carbon tax compared to naturally extracted stuff.

STEPHANIE SY: Let's educate our viewer about that. The Keystone XL pipeline takes this raw product from Canada, which is considered a very dirty form of fossil fuel.

BOB INGLIS: Yes. It is oil sands. Some people call them "tar sands." In Canada, they don't like to call them "tar sands", they want to call them "oil sands." Basically, in the Middle East, God cooked it all the way and left it right at the surface. In Canada, he left it in the oven; it is not quite cooked. So in order to use it, you have to heat the sand. When you are heating it, you are probably going to heat it with fossil fuels. You are paying a carbon tax right there.

And then the stuff itself that you now get into the pipeline, which is pretty dirty at that point, has to be further processed with more petroleum products, with more fossil fuels. Now you are finally getting to the consumer with a product that is not competitive with, for example, fracked natural gas or naturally extracted petroleum. The result is that you might build that pipeline and have nothing flowing through it. I hope it is adaptable to water, because water will be something we need and perhaps they can—

STEPHANIE SY: You are saying ultimately if the carbon tax were to be put in place, that the product at the end of the Keystone XL pipeline would be too expensive for anybody to want?

BOB INGLIS: Right. It would become non-economic—not because we are out to get them, but just because of the level playing field.

"Put all your costs in, fellows and ladies. Compete. Now, if we can see the price, we are going to choose the cheaper. And yours is more expensive. So that pipeline has nothing coming out at the end of it. So knock yourself out, go ahead and build it. If you want to invest in it, I would suggest you are probably going to lose your money, but go ahead. Knock yourself out."

STEPHANIE SY: I want to get your opinion on jobs. The Trump administration has really tied the so-called "war on coal" with jobs and economic growth, implying that there is actually a war on coal, which I am not sure there is. What do you think about that?

BOB INGLIS: The "war on coal" is a political term that just defies economic logic. If there is a war on coal, it was started by a guy named George Mitchell in Texas, who perfected fracking of natural gas. He figured out a way to basically drill deep down, smash the rock with some lubricants and get some sand in there, and then suck the gas out of the pipe, put it in the pipeline, and bring it to our houses.

STEPHANIE SY: Making natural gas more affordable.

BOB INGLIS: Yes. It proves our point. He expanded supply, that brings down price, and then you get innovation. Those six coal-fired plants in South Carolina converting to natural gas—that is the war on coal.

What Barack Obama was doing —we have to remember the Clean Power Plan never came into effect.

STEPHANIE SY: Because it was caught up in the courts.

BOB INGLIS: So it was convenient politically to blame it all on him, Barack Obama, the losses in the coalfields.

But it was George Mitchell who was doing the war on coal. And it was a fair war. It was an economic competition, and George Mitchell won it. And good for us that George Mitchell delivered that innovation.

I tell people it is like at the end of Saving Private Ryan, where the captain is down on the ground and he has the handgun and he is shooting at the tank coming at him. The guy in the tank is George Mitchell with a great big bazooka on that thing. That is the war on coal. Barack Obama is the captain with the handgun, I mean he was shooting with a little Clean Power Plan that never become implemented. George Mitchell is the one who destroyed coal.

STEPHANIE SY: What does that mean as far as renewable energy? You keep going back to natural gas, which is so mind-blowing for me as I am trying to talk to you about climate change. I very rarely have talked to environmentalists who say the solution is natural gas.

BOB INGLIS: It is not the end-all. We are in a process here. What we have to do is make sure, as they still say on the floor of Congress—I used to say it when I was there—"Don't make the perfect the enemy of the good." You can take reasonable steps—and this is a big difference between us at republicEn.org and our compatriots on the "Eco Right" we call ourselves, because we see ourselves as a balance to the Environmental Left.

Many conservatives have heard the Environmental Left basically saying, "We have to have perfect now. Turn off the lights, turn off the air conditioning, turn off the heat. We are going to shiver and sweat, depending on the season, in the dark. We are going to do without, we are going to sit in sackcloth and ashes, we are going to repent, we are going to walk, and eat bugs." I know all that is a caricature of the Environmental Left, obviously, but it is how the Right has perceived the Left.

So we come along and say, "No, no. We are going to have more energy, more mobility, more freedom. It is going to be better, faster, cheaper fuels, and cleaner. So let's innovate." But let's not in the meantime say, "Well, we can't have any natural gas because we have a problem with fugitive emissions." No. Solve the fugitive emissions problem then. "We can't have nuclear because it has a waste problem." No. Build those things. Like Jim Hansen would say "Build them fast," Like Bill Gates would say "Build them fast," because if you build them, you don't have emissions. You do have a waste problem.

But we live in a fallen world, and we have to accept trade-offs. We cannot make the perfect the enemy of the good.

STEPHANIE SY: How do you even begin to have a conversation with some Republicans about free-market solutions and some of these things we've talked about when you cannot even get them to really care about the problem?

BOB INGLIS: We think it is mostly solution aversion, which is what psychiatrists and psychologists would tell us: When we think that there is a problem that does not have a solution, we doubt the existence of the problem. That sounds strange, but it is what all of us as human beings do.

STEPHANIE SY: Like it is easy to just say, "Well, climate change is happening, but I can't do anything about it, so I'm just going to keep on keeping on."

BOB INGLIS: Right. And the solutions seem anathema.

So what conservatives have heard so far is a big government solution: "We're going to do this cap-and-trade thing." It's enormously complicated. Basically, what conservatives heard is just what they heard about climate change: "The godless scientists"—they are not all godless as evidenced by my metamorphosis with that Aussie climate scientist named Scott Heron—"got together with the UN bureaucrats, they roped in the Wall Street traders, and they came up with this hopelessly complicated thing called 'cap and trade,' that it was going to grow the government, it is a massive tax increase." So people like me voted against it.

Then they heard about the Clean Power Plan, and that was a regulatory answer.

So what conservatives have heard is a bigger government or a regulating government, and they're like, "We must not have a problem." That sounds irrational until I tell you, "Stephanie, here's a plan of surgery for that back problem that I hope you're not having. First, we're going to take your head off. Once we have your head off, we'll work on your spine and put your head back on."

You're going to tell me, "Thanks, doctor."

STEPHANIE SY: "I don't have a back problem." [Laughter]

BOB INGLIS: You don't have a back problem anymore. "I'm feeling fine, doc." Because it is nuts. You're not going to take my head off.

So when conservatives heard climate change: "It's nuts. You're not going to regulate my life. You're not going to give me cap and trade, which is so complicated."

So what we come along and say is, "No, it's not going to be any of that. What it is going to be is just a simple pricing of this negative effect—the burning of fossil fuels—and put it on the power meter, put it at the pump. Let us see it, and then we'll choose, in the liberty of enlightened self-interest, the new challenger fuels and we will leave behind these incumbent fuels." It really does stink for those incumbent fuels, but that is what happens in the free enterprise system.

STEPHANIE SY: This still seems—and I do not want to dwell too much on this—to go back to the beginning of our conversation, which is that the problem is that the fossil fuel industry has a huge amount of lobbying power in Washington, and it has put a lot of money behind political campaigns of climate skeptics—and they may not be, but then they decide to be, as you pointed out in 2008 when Newt Gingrich changed his mind, because that is where the money is.

BOB INGLIS: Right. Corporations are typically cautious. They want certainty and they are trying to get certainty.

For example, Jeff Immelt of General Electric said recently that he would prefer not the carbon tax that I am talking about, but the continuation of these sorts of incentives and subsidies. I can understand that. If I were sitting in his chair at General Electric, maybe that would be my view, too, because where you sit determines where you stand. If you want that certainty, it is probably safer for him to be for that, because you have to have a lot of faith and a lot of vision to see the far better. I am sure that if Jeff Immelt were here—in fact, I know from reading that interview that he gave, that he believes that the carbon tax would be the better solution, "but it looks like a lower-percentage chance of getting it, so I'll take the certainty of the current subsidy regime."

That is where we have to, I believe, as conservatives, step forward with this really visionary approach that is guided by that North Star we started out with, just a simple concept of accountability. What we as conservatives believe is that accountability brings blessings, the lack of accountability wreaks havoc. Climate change is that havoc.

STEPHANIE SY: I just want to get your view on international frameworks and governance of climate change. Obviously, the United States is the second largest emitter, after China, of greenhouse grass emissions, still the largest emitter per capita, I imagine, by a long shot.

What do you think of the value of agreements like the one struck in Paris?

BOB INGLIS: I think they are very helpful for establishing a will. They do not establish a way, of course, but they do establish a will. For that reason, at republicEn.org we were certainly very disappointed that President Trump withdrew from Paris. It is actually sort of strange to say we withdrew, because it is a voluntary agreement, so it is strange to withdraw from something that is voluntary. But it was a collection of will of the countries of the world to do something, and there is value in that, a moral commitment to one another. To have the United States now on the sidelines, sniveling and disputing the science of climate change, is a very strange place for my great country to be. We should be at the front of the pack here, not sniveling on the sidelines. It is really a very awkward place, and a very embarrassing place, for the United States to be.

There is a silver lining—we are always looking for silver linings at republicEn.org, I suppose—and that is that I think it has created some real dissonance with people who think, You mean we're going to do nothing about climate change, nothing at all? That is a very exposed feeling. It is actually helping us as people say, "Wait a minute, we think somebody should be doing something. We do not want to be withdrawing from the rest of the world in solving this problem."

STEPHANIE SY: If I were a Republican sitting across from you running for office, the way you did back in 2010, how would you convince me that this is a politically viable issue for my constituency?

BOB INGLIS: It would be hard. I would have to first go show you the constituency, and that is what we have to do. It all comes back to us.

We all blame the Congress. We say, "They don't listen to us. They don't pay attention." No, no. Congress listens very intently and they pay very close attention, especially to the activists within their own party. So it really falls to us as citizens, and us as an organization like republicEn.org, to help build the constituency for action. If we show that constituency, that member of Congress will lead. But until we do, they will say to me, "Inglis, listen. In the next primary, it could happen to me what happened to you." That is why it is so important to build in the heartland this constituency.

It all comes back to us, the citizens. The elected officials just are our servants, and they really do listen to us. It is just that they are not hearing a great deal from activists within the Republican Party that, "By golly, free enterprise can fix climate change. Come on, let's go." If they heard that, you bet they'd lead. So we have to create that constituency.

STEPHANIE SY: Bob Inglis, thank you so much. Very insightful.

BOB INGLIS: Great to be with you, Stephanie. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Read MoreRead Less