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Within the scientific community, there is a widespread consensus that human activity is contributing to climate change. But the issue remains highly divisive within American politics. While some conservative lawmakers deny that climate change is a problem, many worry that government actions and regulations will end up stifling growth. We talk with former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis, who is proposing free-market solutions to address climate change and related issues.
- Bob Inglis Member, House of Representatives (R-SC)(1993-99, 2005-11) Director, Energy and Enterprise Initiative, George Mason University
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, Your Turn, Ecuador has agreed to provide asylum for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. What do you think? When it's Your Turn make sure you call us.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, quick, which political party do you think of as being the most outspoken about climate change? If you said Democrats you're probably in the majority. But one former Republican Congressman wants that to change. He thinks there are plenty of reasons conservatives should be interested in finding fixes, which he thinks can be found using free market economic principles.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to explain is all is Bob Inglis. He is the executive director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University. He represented the 4th District in South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 1999, and then again from 2005 to 2011. Bob Inglis, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. BOB INGLISThank you, Kojo. Great to be with you.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join this conversation at 800-433-8850. Do you think climate change should be a political issue? Tell us why you think so or why not, 800-433-8850. Congressman Inglis, the issue of climate change is a political hot potato especially among conservatives. When you were serving in congress what sparked your interest in an issue that so many others seem to wish to avoid?
INGLISWell, when I was first in congress -- as you just said, I was there for six years and I was gone six years and I came back for another six -- would happily continued on, but for being uninvited to the Tea Party. So for the first six, I said climate change is a bunch of hooey, Al Gore's imagination. And then I had six years out, so look in the rearview mirror and see some things that I do differently. And so then I got back to congress. I got on the science committee. Went to Antarctica twice actually to see the research there and became convinced of the evidence there and decided that it's really something that we should take on.
INGLISAnd very importantly, I think, Kojo, as you said in the preamble there, that really there's a conservative answer to this and it's free enterprise. And it's a very exciting answer. And so the challenge here is just to get conservatives to say, hey we got the answer. It's called free enterprise.
NNAMDIWe've talked to a number of leading climate scientists about climate change and global warming and whether it should even be a political issue. One of them said, quoting here, "Science is not really supposed to be partisan." What say you?
INGLISYeah, it really isn't. It's just a data. You know, I'm asked often do you believe in climate change? And I usually say, no I don't believe in climate change. It's just data. It's not worthy of belief. It's just data. And the data says that something's up. And the temperature's up is what's up. And so let's do something about it and figure out the causes. And if we can effect it what a great thing, especially if we can effect it while making a lot of money off of the new technologies would be terrific.
NNAMDIWhich we'll get to in a second. Our guest is Bob Inglis. He is the executive director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University, former congressman who represented the 4th district of South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 1999 and again from 2005 to 2011. You describe Republicans as hiding in foxholes, ducking intense fire on the issue of climate change. Is it your intent to arm those republicans, if you will?
INGLISYeah, or sound a rallying cry and hopefully they come up out of the foxholes. But what we need to do at the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, Kojo, is provide some covering fire for those folks that are now hunkered down in those foxholes. We need to give them some support showing that, really doesn't this fit with conservatism?
NNAMDIYou aim to address climate change as a free market issue, addressing it by way of the free market. Why do you think that's the right way for conservatives to address this issue and how do you see that happening?
INGLISWell, I think that what we've got here is a market failure, a distortion within the marketplace. And what it is is it -- there are costs that go unattached to the product. So for example, coal-fired electricity, what's not attached to that cost is the health impacts of the small particulates of the soot that comes out of those plants. If it were attached we'd be able to see that oh, that electricity isn't as cheap as I thought it was. Right now, I'm thinking it's pretty cheap, you know. Because at my meter, it looks cheap.
INGLISBut there's no such thing as a free lunch. I'm paying for the full cost of that coal-fired electricity, just paying in other ways. I'm paying for the 23,600 people who die prematurely each year in the United States from those emissions, the 3 million lost work days from those emissions. And if those costs were attached to that price of that electricity I'd see the real cost.
INGLISNow, of course, that immediately causes some people to say, what a terrible idea. We don't wanna pay more for electricity. Well, unless you believe in the tooth fairy and that there's such a thing as a free lunch you'd understand that, no there is no such thing as a free lunch. I'm paying the whole cost of that electricity, just not at the meter. If I were paying at the meter then I would know my need. And this is where really, Kojo, I think that conservatives really can help us here, and especially Libertarians.
INGLISBecause Libertarians really believe in the power of markets and they believe in transparent markets and they believe that people should act in enlightened self interest without people telling them what to do. Government instructing them is the best alternative, but rather just let the people decide in liberty. Well, I'm for that too. I think that's a great idea. It's just if I don't know the real -- the true cost of that electricity, then I don't know my need. If I knew my need, I'd be calling a solar hot water installer right now in South Carolina where I live and saying, get to my house quickly. A third of my electricity goes to making hot water for my house, my wife, my kids...
NNAMDIIn a way you have answered my next question, and that is if on the one hand the individual is educated and understands the full cost of how much this allegedly cheap electricity is costing them what's the opening there for the entrepreneur? What's the opening there for the person who says, look I have ideas that can help you save money. Just let me in your front door.
INGLISRight. And of course that call is -- I don't make that call to that entrepreneur until I have a felt need. And as long as the costs are hidden from me I don't make the call. And so that's the market distortion. That's a market failure. That's why we're not getting the innovation that we could get. And that, I submit, is a conservative notion that really you wanna fix that market failure. You wanna make it so that I know the real cost. It's not hidden from me. If I know it then I'm calling that solar hot water heater installer and I'm saying, please get to my house.
INGLIS'Cause, you know, you got to a similar latitude all over the Middle East, Israel, Jordan, places like that, nearly every structure has a solar hot water heater on it. Not in South Carolina. The reason? It doesn't make sense to have one. South Carolina gets its power so cheap. Oh, it's not so cheap, is it? We're paying in other ways.
NNAMDIFor someone who doesn't have a great deal of recollection of economics 101, how would you say -- how would say getting rid of fuel subsidies affect climate change?
INGLISOh, yes. So, yeah, what we're looking at at Energy and Enterprise Initiative is a true cost comparison. We want the challenger fuels to compete against the incumbent fuels with the true cost on the table so that we can see the real competition. And then consumers in liberty can decide. So what we're looking for here is the true cost. And the way to get to that is two things.
INGLISNumber one is eliminate all subsidies for all fuels, is our contention. Now, of course when I say that the wind and solar folks go gasping for air because wind and solar can't exist without the things like the production tax credit, which is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. It's a real problem for them, right, that first thing. But then I say to them, hold on, there's a second thing coming. The second thing is let's attach all costs to all fuels. Now wind and solar are breathing again.
INGLISThat first part, you know, it's scary for them 'cause they say eliminate all subsidies for all fuels? Well, that sounds terrible. The wind and solar is done in. But as a conservative and somebody that doesn't want the government picking winners and losers, let's eliminate all the subsidies. Now, mind you it's all the subsidies. So coal gets subsidies, oil and gas gets subsidies. So let's eliminate all of those, not just Solyndra, but all of them across the board. No government...
NNAMDIAnd then you'll know everybody's costs on the table.
INGLISRight. We can see it then. And then -- so we eliminate the subsidies and then second, attach all costs to all fuels. Now, that first thing fits of course with the understandable passion of folks right now, especially in the Tea Party, to say we don't want the government choosing these -- picking these winners and losers. That first thing really fits.
INGLISThe second thing isn't heard so much at a Tea Party rally just yet. But think about it. I think it really does fit with the notion that you really want all cost attached to all fuels so there can be accountability because what we as conservatives believe in is accountability. That's what -- I'm a social issue conservative, economic issue conservative. I'm not a Libertarian, but Libertarians believe in that as well. And national security conservatives, all four of those flavors of conservatism believe in accountability. So let's attach all the costs to all the fuels.
NNAMDISo that we will know how much everything costs and so that I as consumer will understand that it's the subsidies that are costing -- that are causing my electric bill, for instance, to be less because of government subsidies. So if we really want to get the government out of this than get all of the subsidies out of it. We then all know all of the costs of it and we can make what will finally be a truly fair comparison.
INGLISRight. And then all kinds of exciting things happen in the free enterprise system because then there are people -- these challenger fuels might just win in that fair competition. Right now they take propping up by fickle tax incentives and clumsy government mandates because we let the incumbent fuels get away with all their existing advantages. And those are these -- some tax advantages for example in gas, some cheap land for coals and things like that. Those are some direct benefits from the government.
INGLISBut then you have this really large indirect benefit which is basically just, okay we won't make you accountable. Coal, go ahead and belch and burn all you want. We don't make you accountable for your emissions. Well, that lack of accountability is what's distorting the marketplace and keeping us from this better solution.
NNAMDIBefore I get to the phones, you served two separate terms in the House of Representatives. How do you now make this appealing? How do you persuade your conservative colleagues on The Hill who might otherwise have no interest in taking up the issue? What I seem to hear you saying is, look let's not debate the science of this. Let us simply talk about the economics of this from a conservative standpoint and look at what really costs more and what really costs less.
INGLISThat's right. And for two reasons I say let's not debate the science. First of all, it's settled. It's pretty clear. Second, even if you think -- even if you join the very small percentage of scientists who don't -- who aren't part of the consensus position, even if you're part of them still you want to act. Because even if you think climate change is -- I think, Kojo, we can stipulate in the discussion that even if climate change is hooey you still want to do what we've discussed so far. You still want to attach the health cost.
INGLISMind you, when I was citing earlier those statistics about the 23,600 people who die prematurely each year in the United States from soot from coal-fired plants and the 3 million lost at work days, that's not climate change. Those are real and quantifiable health costs. So even if you think climate change is hooey -- let's stipulate for a moment that it is -- I don't think it is hooey, but let's stipulate that it is. Still you want to act to attach those health costs.
INGLISSo I think we can -- the challenge for us as conservatives is to win the day in saying -- even if you think climate change is hooey still you want to attach these costs so that the free enterprise system can work.
NNAMDIA, you attached costs, B, you let the free enterprise system work, C, your constituents are paying lower prices.
INGLISRight, because as the innovation occurs that's what happens. Now of course that's what -- and here's where we are, I think Kojo, is that in the midst of the Great Recession it's -- a lot of people I think understandably just don't want anything to rock the boat. I mean, you know, their boat is just above the waterline. You know, they're -- and when -- talk of things like this seems unsettling and it seems like the boat's gonna get rocked, and I can understand that. That's what -- that's the difficulty -- the challenge that we have at Energy and Enterprise Initiative is getting through that.
INGLISBut, you know, the economy is going to improve at some point. And, in fact, this energy innovation could be part of that improvement. I mean, we could spark an expansion in the economy. You know, in that first six years that I was in congress we balanced the budget. I was on the budget committee. We started $300 billion in deficit. We ended up after I left congress 99,002,000 with a balance budget. We like to claim credit as Republicans who desire austerity packages. Bill Clinton would claim credit for his 1993 package.
INGLISBut really it was the economy growing because the internet and the PC that made it possible for us to balance the budget. Let's do that again with energy. Let's have an expansion in the economy that helps us to balance the budget.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. There are a lot of people who'd like to talk with you on the phone. When we come back we're going directly to the phones. The lines are already tied up. If you'd like to join the conversation go to our website kojoshow.org or send us a tweet at kojoshow. Have candidates been addressing the issue of climate change enough for you? What are you looking to hear on this issue? 800 -- oh well, go to our website kojoshow.org or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet at kojoshow because the phone lines are busy. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on using the free enterprise system to address issues raised by climate change. We're talking with Bob Inglis. He is the executive director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University. He represented the 4th District of South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 1999 and again from 2005 to 2011. Going directly to the phones here is Joy in Newfoundland, Canada. Joy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOYThank you. I'm finding this conversation a little bit frustrating because I feel like the congressman is saying what people in the environmental economics profession, of whom I'm one, have been saying for at least 25 years. And is now getting presented as if it's something new because a Republican is saying it and somebody who used to think climate change wasn't a reality.
JOYHaving said that, one of the things more specifically that I'm concerned about is that we recognize that most of the harm caused by climate change, as opposed to say soot emissions, is international. It's not affecting Americans -- to the extent that it affects Americans, it's pretty trivial compared to the impact of people in developing worlds. And I'm wondering how your internalization of the external costs posed by climate emissions -- or greenhouse gas emissions as opposed to say soot will factor in the international cost being imposed, not just the domestic ones.
INGLISWell, I think, Joy, the biggest change would be that the innovation that would come by internalization of any cost would drive technology and the great blessing that a very blessed land like America can be to the rest of the world is to develop those new technologies that then enable countries elsewhere, developing countries to leapfrog. So we're -- you know, too much is given much is required, and we have an incredible opportunity here to be the innovators.
INGLISSo that's where it starts. I'd take the attachment of any of the externalities. I mean, I've focused a lot here on the health cost but if you go into the climatic cost obviously you drive innovation even faster.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Joy. We move on to Dan in Brook Land here in D.C. Dan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANYeah, well, I kind of enjoy the topic. You know, I certainly -- you know, while I appreciate the desire for the end result I'm rather frustrated that Congressman Inglis hasn't spoken about, you know, the dire need for campaign financier form. You know, the fact that the coal and petrochemical industries are among the biggest -- I mean, you know, in the billion dollar industries, the biggest lobbyist, and the fact that, you know, when it comes to congress and economics, it is in their economic interest to actually keep getting those massive contributions.
DANAnd now with Citizens United that massive -- you know, unless we sort of like get that piece about the fact that, you know, congressmen are basically forced to, you know, to the bidding, you know.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk about -- let's talk to Bob Inglis. He spent a lot of time in those arenas. What Dan seems to be saying is I give you contributions, you give me subsidies. That's the way it works.
INGLISWell, it -- that's a factor. I wouldn't make it as large a factor as you just made it there, Dan. I think that it's -- it's a factor for sure. And do I wish that maybe some of those interests were supporting the Energy and Enterprise Initiative rather than fighting us? Yeah, but the harder reality is that congress well reflects the people. Congress does exactly what the people wanted to do. And that's a hard reality for us to hear but members of congress hear us saying, yeah we want to balance the budget. Oh but don't touch Medicare, Social Security or Medicaid. Okay.
INGLISWell, then what you're telling me is that members of congress do nothing. Okay, well, I can handle that. I mean, that's -- so congress is doing exactly what we want them to do when it comes to the structural deficit. And they're doing exactly what we want them to do when it comes to climate change really, which is nothing so far. So what we have to do is we have to send the signal.
INGLISSo, yes, campaign cash has something to do with that, but really it's more just the people deciding that really we're ready to see the true cost comparison here, and let's have at it.
NNAMDISpeaking of which -- and thank you for raising that issue, Dan -- if ultimately you want to take politicians and government out of the equation, to that end where do you focus your outreach efforts? How do you speak directly to the people so to speak?
INGLISYeah, our effort at Energy and Enterprise Initiative is really to go to the heartland rather than to the halls of congress because politicians generally follow. They don't generally lead. And so what we need to do is build support in the districts out there, congressional districts in the states. And then those leaders will feel supported in this action and they'll come here and lead here in Washington. So our effort is focused at the heartland more than in the halls of congress.
NNAMDIThe presidential candidates may not be talking a great deal right now about climate change. What they are talking a great deal about, what the public seems pretty receptive to is a conversation about taxes. Will this proposal have any effect on taxes at all?
INGLISWell, yes. This is the most likely legislative vehicle that we see for what I'm talking about here. Again, what we're talking about at Energy and Enterprise Initiative is something of a revenue neutral. That means, in other words, no growth of government -- tax swap where you just change what you tax. Reduce taxes on something you want more of, which is labor income industry -- taxes on those sorts of things that we pay now, but we want more income. We don't want less -- is shift that tax onto something you want less of, which is CO2.
INGLISAnd so by changing what you tax you can get an exciting result. And the legislative vehicle that we see is some sort of a fundamental tax reform in this country. We got a great way to broaden the base -- broaden the tax base and bring down the rates. It's just change what you tax.
NNAMDIHere is Alex in Ashburn, Va. Alex, your turn.
ALEXYes, hi. Thank you for taking my call. You know, I don't actually care about what is the real cost that attach to that. If I have option to pay less I will pay less because, you know, I try to survive. I try to feed my family. I working two jobs. So what I have to be worried about if we want to have green energy the government should support it. Otherwise after election the green energy will die. Because people who stand behind Romney, oil company, weapon production company, they don't care. They just need money, that's it.
ALEXSo it's just nice story, but the main point is just I think you try to pull roles from, you know, Democrats to make Republican look good.
ALEXYou know, this is not the case.
NNAMDIBob Inglis is right -- as far as I know, not active in politics right now. He is at a university studying this issue. But I guess what Alex seems to be saying, Bob Inglis, is that whatever the face value of the cost is for him, if it's less he's going to pay less. Could you talk to him about what -- if everything is included in the cost his costs would really look like?
INGLISYeah, and that's the challenge. Alex, you are paying. You are paying the whole cost. Your family is impacted by that cheap electricity. It looks cheap but it's not really that cheap because if you are fortunate enough to have insurance you're paying higher insurance premiums because somebody covered by your same insurance company is in the hospital right now because their lungs are impaired and they are effected by those emissions. And the result is you're bill just went up. Your premium -- insurance premium just went up.
INGLISIf you're not covered, but you're paying taxes in some way then you're paying through Medicare and Medicaid because they're the lung impaired patients that are covered by those programs. So you're paying. This is -- the point is there's no such thing as a free lunch. So you can pay me now or pay me later. And so why don't we pay clearly all up -- right in front of us all out on the table. Then we'd get that innovation and we'd be truthful with each other.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Alex. Here now is James who is on Capitol Hill here in Washington. James, your turn.
JAMESHi there. Thank you. I was calling in regarding the issue of including all costs specifically petroleum. I'm always flabbergasted when I hear someone talking about, you know, remove the subsidies from alternative options, you know, and all tax breaks, subsidies, et cetera, when there's one massive subsidy that petroleum, in particular, and maybe natural gas to some extent, gets that's rarely talked about except for maybe papers by folks like Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, which is what the cost of keeping a carrier group in the Persian Gulf, the cost of having the State Department on endless missions to the Middle East to ensure a continuous flow of petroleum from some of the largest reserves in the country.
JAMESI'm not saying for a second that we should withdraw that carrier group 'cause our economy runs on that stuff, but if we're going to be honest in including costs let's talk about, you know, what share of our military cost is going to protect the flow of that resource? And what other industry in the world has the U.S. navy working for it to protect, you know, the flow of its prime product?
NNAMDIHere is Congressman Inglis.
INGLISYeah, that's a great point, James. And actually, you know, this -- where I can be very grateful for my friend Ron Paul for making that point I think is that, you know, this is a place -- well, I'm a Republican not a Libertarian. I can surely hear Ron's wisdom on that, that yeah, those costs are real. And let's do some simple cost accounting and realize that, yeah, that should be attached to the price of gasoline.
INGLISNow, it's not the only reason we're there is gasoline but let's be honest. It's a substantial part of the reason that we've got all those carrier groups there. We're protecting the supply line out of some very dangerous places. And furthermore, if you think about it from a national security issue perspective -- in other words, I'm trying to cover the waterfront of conservatism here. I've just spoken of a Libertarian, now I'm talking about national security issue conservatives -- is why do we pay in our gasoline purchases to people, giving them the resources then to hit us. And then we pay also to hit them back.
INGLISWe gotta get out of one side of that transaction which I think is the one where we're basically aiding and abetting terrorism through our purchases. So that's something that should turn the crank of national security conservatives. So say, Kojo, I'm trying to cover the entire waterfront of conservatism.
NNAMDISo I see. Here is Neil in Silver Spring, Md. Neil, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NEILHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking the call. I want to point out, I think the public needs to be scared out of their wits. I think if you extrapolate the accumulation of CO2 and see where it's going off the top of the chart that in the next century to a century-and-a-half, two centuries you could be looking usefully at 125, 135 degrees Fahrenheit in Washington, D.C. or Oklahoma. Just as an endgame, Venus has an atmosphere with predominately of CO2. It's surface temperature is 900 degrees Fahrenheit.
NNAMDIWhat you're looking for, Neil, is a greater sense of urgency here?
NEILPrecisely. I think we are so far behind the curve that, you know, it's a game of catch up. And the question now is will we be able to catch up. In other words, it's a moving target and the congress and the public need to get off their behinds.
NNAMDIBob Inglis, to what extent are the proposals you are making to put all of the real costs on the table and look at it going to achieve the end that Neil seeks is to get us off the dime and moving?
INGLISYeah, I think the fastest innovation will clearly occur in the free enterprise system, not through government mandates, not through fickle tax incentives. Those are particularly slow ways of getting things done. Except, for example, café standards. They're going up which is a good thing I think. But, you know, you get around it by having a truck -- you know, there are a lot of trucks out there that really are cars that, you know, are exempt from café.
INGLISSo anytime you have a government kind of mandate kind of thing, that's what you end up with is ways around it. Why not just send an elegant price signal and then cause the free enterprise system -- have people out of there enlightened self interest trying to make a buck selling me the better product. That moves things quickly. That's how we got innovation in internet and the PC.
INGLISInternet started with government action but then the PC really was entrepreneurs trying to make money by serving my needs. They do it very well and, you know, I bought their products and many other people have, making them very wealthy. But I'm served in the process. That's the way we'll get the kind of -- the speed that Neil is looking for.
INGLISBut, Kojo, one thing I'd say about Neil's comment is for conservatives it's very important I think as we try to reach to conservatives on this, is not to present it as an apocalyptic vision. If we do that it actually -- if you tell me that we're all gonna die, well then, I'm not -- sort of denial is a pretty good response for me to that. But if you tell me listen, we got a way out and let's do reasonable risk avoidance, you'll probably get better action -- more direct action out of conservatives that way.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Bob Inglis is the executive director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University. He represented the 4th District of South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 1999 and once again from 2005 to 2011. Bob Inglis, thank you very much for joining us.
INGLISGreat to be with you, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, it is Your Turn. You can start calling now, 800-433-8850. Ecuador has agreed to provide asylum for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. What do you think? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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