WASHINGTON—It is tempting to label six-term Rep. Bob Inglis as an equal opportunity annoyer.
But in the nuanced halls of Congress, that would be far too simplistic.
The outgoing South Carolinian is a burr in the GOP’s rigid saddle because he discomfits dominant House Republican groupthink: he admits he trusts the science that says human activities are causing the planet to warm.
He simultaneously perplexes the Democratic co-authors of the American Clean Energy and Security Act by rejecting their cap-and-trade effort at reining in heat-trapping gas emissions.
“I can understand why Ed Markey would be frustrated by somebody like me,” the Republican said about the Democratic Massachusetts representative in an interview with SolveClimate News. After all, “cap and trade is a market-based, conservative concept.”
“But over the years, I’ve committed various heresies against Republicans. The one that’s most enduring is saying that climate change is real and let’s do something about it.”
All that said, the cage rattler is understandably irked that his bipartisan bill touting a carbon tax as an efficient solution to global warming winked out without even one congressional hearing. That can be attributed to Republicans amplifying their climate denier rhetoric and Democrats clinging to cap and trade as the sole possible solution.
Some of his irritation with inaction bubbled over in mid-November when Inglis, ranking member of the House Science and Technology Committee’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee, told colleagues during a five-minute tongue lashing that the Chinese “plan on eating our lunch in this next century.”
Back to Resume Carbon Tax Fight?
Observers can claim that Inglis had nothing to lose with his outburst. Granted, he won’t be serving in the 112th Congress because tea party candidate Trey Gowdy, a prosecutor, ousted him from the uber-conservative Greenville area district during the June primary.
Inglis will seek work in the alternative energy field, he said. But in the meantime, he’s trying to convince bona fide conservative Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., to reintroduce the carbon tax measure they co-sponsored with Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill, when a Republican-majority House convenes in January.
While insiders expect Congress to be dormant on climate legislation for the two years leading up to the presidential election, nobody knows exactly what will transpire.
Inglis, a vibrant and vigorous 51-year-old attorney who espouses his devotion to the “mission and purpose” of legislating, has already taken one hiatus from the lower chamber between 1999 and 2005. Conceivably, he could retake his seat and be in the thick of the Capitol Hill climate debate in 2013.
A Republican’s Climate Evolution
Inglis’s dressing down of what he called his “free enterprise colleagues” on Nov. 17 shouldn’t have been a shock to those who watched him shake his own skeptic status.
“From 1993 through 1998, I pooh-poohed climate change as an imaginary problem,” he said about his attitude during his first three terms in Congress—which he left to unsuccessfully challenge incumbent Democrat Ernest Hollings for his U.S. Senate seat.
A crack in that non-believer veneer burst open when he rejoined the House in 2005 and took an assignment with the Science and Technology Committee. It was during a trip to a U.S. research station in Antarctica that ice core drillings provided evidence of what has happened to the Earth’s atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.
“Even a non-scientist like me can grasp that and see increases in greenhouse gases,” he said about his aha moment. “I should have been able to see it before but it took going to Antarctica, seeing that data and listening to the science committee.”
Doubting Merits of Cap and Trade
As a conservative free marketer, Inglis sought a mechanism to slice carbon emissions that was revenue-neutral and didn’t cause government to sprout extra arms and legs.
Those founding principles led him to introduce his 12-page Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act in May 2009. That happened the month before the Democratic-majority House passed the mammoth cap-and-trade measure written by Markey and Rep. Henry Waxman of California.
In a nutshell, his spare bill calls for forcing polluters to pay a carbon tax that would rise incrementally over a 30-year span and, in tandem, reduce Social Security payroll taxes.
He’s convinced that the onus of an ever-increasing tax would unleash American ingenuity in the energy sector. As well, lower payroll taxes would give household pocketbooks extra money to invest in clean technology and cover higher electricity and fuel costs that are inherent as solar, wind and other renewables replace fossil fuels.
“Individual consumers acting in their own self-interest will create a marketplace that will efficiently drive down prices and do what we’ve done with the telecommunications and computer industries,” he said. “The genius of America is that people seeking to make money will innovate quickly.”
Waxman and Markey’s 1,200-page bill became watered down and unpredictable, he stressed, because it was so larded up with handouts to well connected polluters.
“The certainty and transparency of a carbon tax that is revenue-neutral will drive innovation much faster than the uncertainties of carbon trading,” he said. “That kind of accountability is a bedrock conservative principle. Actually, it’s even a biblical principle.”
Jazzed About Turning a “Triple Play”
Inglis touts a carbon tax as a classic win-win-win because it makes the nation less reliant on oil imports from enemies, creates homegrown clean technology jobs and cleans up air sullied with pollutants from burning fossil fuels.
“It creates a new plateau of an energy economy,” said Inglis, now a disciple of the insights of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. “Whether we will do it or the Chinese will do it, who owns the 21st century hangs in the balance.
“If we press the pause button, we’ll wake up in a few years and the Chinese will be way on down the road,” he continued. “What we need is a Sputnik moment,” he said, adding that our determination to beat the Russians to the moon in the 1950s and 1960s provided the resolve to pursue scientific solutions.
Months before he rolled out his little-noticed bill, Inglis collaborated with renowned conservative economist Art Laffer to give his ideas credibility with a certain audience. Laffer served on President Ronald Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board in the 1980s.
“We need to impose a tax on the thing we want less of (carbon dioxide) and reduce taxes on the things we want more of (income and jobs),” the two wrote in a December 2008 opinion piece in The New York Times. “A carbon tax would attach the national security and environmental costs to carbon-based fuels like oil, causing the market to recognize the price of these negative externalities.”
Feather Ruffler Urges Congress to Shape Up
Inglis grew up near the coastal community of Hilton Head Island. His hometown of Bluffton is across the state and political worlds away from the right-leaning Fourth District that he will represent until the end of the month.
While he’s philosophical about his June primary defeat, he’s aware his constituents were less than enthused about energy innovation when the economy was tanking.
And though he maintains a high rating from the American Conservative Union, Inglis knows he ruffled Republican feathers by supporting the Troubled Asset Relief Program that bailed out financial institutions, opposing the Iraq War troop surge of 2007 and calling out fellow Palmetto State Rep. Joe Wilson for his lack of decorum during President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress in 2009.
“Maybe I’m the eternal optimist but I believe that at some point we’re going to realize that anger isn’t a governing philosophy,” Inglis said about the calm that Congress needs to regain before tackling substantive issues such as climate change. “You can tear down with anger but only build with love.”
Inglis insists that change of this magnitude requires cooperation from both parties. In response to the suggestion that he has the fervor and background to finesse such bipartisanship by serving as a sort of climate ambassador in Congress he answered: “I’d love to do that.”
While Inglis wants Flake to lead the carbon tax charge in the House, spokeswoman Genevieve Frye Rozansky told SolveClimate News that the Arizona Republican has not yet made a decision about reintroducing the measure.
That aside, Inglis compares the current state of Congress to that of a petulant child who has to seek out and penalize scapegoats before emerging from the grip of a paralyzing temper tantrum.
“The time is coming when enough Americans are going to say, ‘Enough with the craziness on both sides,’” Inglis concluded. “They’re looking for adults to solve these problems. Shouldn’t we be finding a way so our children and grandchildren aren’t boots on the ground fighting the Chinese over a finite resource that stinks up the air?”