Bob Inglis is making the conservative case for a green future

It isn't always easy being a green Republican, but former South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis is using free enterprise to support environmental progress.

FLORIDA, December 6, 2012 — Since leaving Congress, South Carolina Republican Bob Inglis has devoted his career to protecting and promoting environmental interests. Unlike many environmental activists, he looks to free enterprise to find solutions for the most daunting environmental challenges.  

Cynicism about politics is so strong today, and hostility towards Washington so deep, that the idea of an honest politician who stands on principle strikes us as quaint. Public office holders seldom brave populist fury to vote their convictions.

Bob Inglis served South Carolina’s fourth congressional district for six non-consecutive terms. Based in the Greenville suburbs, he started out as a fairly routine conservative Republican. During the latter half of his tenure, however, his views moderated considerably. After Barack Obama was elected president, Inglis refused to adopt the angry temperament that became routine for many on the right.

During the 2010 primary cycle, he lost to a Tea Party-backed challenger by an almost unbelievable 42 points.  

Green politics have become as bitter and divisive as the fiscal politics that spawned the Tea Party movement. The issue of global climate change (“global warming”) has become so politicized that even saying anything about temperature data, which are as dry a scientific matter as we can imagine, leaves one open to vicious attack by people who don’t know the difference between Fahrenheit and Celsius. 

Can Democrats and Republicans learn to discuss the environment without rancor? Is it possible to appreciate virgin forest or a venison roast without making a political statement? And can a good conservative feel free to wonder whether humans have anything to do with climate change, and wonder what we can do about it? 

Bob Inglis begins to tackle these questions in part one of our interview:


Joseph F. Cotto: This is surely one of the most polarized eras in American politics, especially as far as environmental issues are concerned. Not so long ago, finding consensus on what was best for the environment was not such a partisan debacle. Why do you believe that the times have  changed? 

Rep. Bob Inglis: The pain of the Great Recession has had us necessarily focused on this month’s mortgage payment and this month’s paycheck. But solutions are usually found on a longer time horizon than that. If we can focus on that longer time horizon, we can find American solutions. First, though, we’ve got to give up on this divisive scapegoat hunt that some partisans have led us on.

Cotto: Global warming is a highly contentious subject. Many Republican politicians claim that human actions have no real impact on the environment’s long term stability. What is your opinion about this?  

Rep. Inglis: The National Academy of Sciences was established a long time ago (by President Lincoln) to help Congress and the President with scientific questions. They’ve said, “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems.” At the Energy and Enterprise Initiative you won’t hear us talking about apocalyptic visions. You will hear us talking about reasonable risk avoidance. The science clearly indicates a risk; let’s move to reduce that risk.

Cotto: Many conservationist Republicans believe that looking after the environment should be considered a bedrock value of conservatism. How do you think that pro-environment policies can make a comeback within the GOP?

Rep. Inglis: The comeback will come when we realize the strength of our own ideas. We conservatives have the answer to the energy and climate challenge: it’s free enterprise in an accountable market place where there are no subsidies for any fuels and where all fuels are accountable for all of their costs—including the health costs of their emissions. Citizens making individual decisions in the liberty of enlightened self-interest will lead us to a wealth-creating/job-creating energy revolution. 

We don’t need clumsy government regulations or fickle tax incentives; we need an accountable marketplace. Of course, consumers will need some way to pay for that innovation, so we’re proposing that any new emissions tax be coupled with either a dollar-for-dollar reduction or elimination of taxes on some form of income (individual income taxes, corporate income taxes or payroll taxes) or with some form of a rebate to taxpayers. The idea is to change what we tax. What conservative wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to reduce taxes on something we want more of (income) and shift the tax onto something we want less of (emissions)?

Cotto: How might conservationist Republicans lead the way in reducing America’s dependency on foreign oil? 

Rep. Inglis: An accountable marketplace—where there are no subsidies for any fuels and where every fuel is responsible for all of its hidden costs—is the most powerful way to innovate our way out of dependence on foreign oil. We’re dependent because we have yet begun to fight with our most powerful weapon—the creativity of free people in free enterprise.

Since petroleum gets various subsidies and is unaccountable for its emissions, challenger fuels find it hard to compete. Expose that incumbent fuel (petroleum) to an accountable marketplace, and the challenger fuels might beat the incumbent fuel, and we’d free ourselves from the dependence on oil.

Cotto: Protecting forests and waterways is key to our national future. Can this be accomplished through center-right public policy? 

Rep. Inglis: When it comes to forests and waterways, we’ve got to balance use and preservation. That balance is best struck by price signals where possible. Where regulations are needed, they should be subject to periodic review and sun-setting so that we make sure they’re aimed at results rather than red tape.

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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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