Inglis op-ed: A Republican politician’s advice for President Obama on energy and climate (Thomson Reuters)

Former Congressman Bob Inglis gives his suggestions to President Obama on how to deal with the problems of global warming and energy.

President Obama anchored his inaugural address with a commitment to tackle global warming. The lingering question is whether the president will lead the country to achieve a lasting solution. The alternative is the politically easy and economically destructive approach of wielding unprecedented executive authority to regulate greenhouse gases state by state, sector by sector, factory by factory. I hope the president chooses to lead. He’ll need Republican support. Winning that support won’t be easy but would be more likely if the president kept three things in mind.

First, he needs to understand that Republicans want everyone in the world to enjoy more power, more mobility and more comfort — not less. Unlike some of his natural allies in the environmental groups (the ones who spent millions of dollars bashing Republicans this last election), we’re not into shivering in the dark. We’re into empowering people around the world with abundant energy. In fact, many of us see this empowerment as a moral imperative. We reject the notion that we can ask the people of the developing world to ice their dreams.

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To be sure, many of us see potential customers in those unlighted places, and we’re certain that American companies can develop the technologies that will meet their needs. Just as those places have been able to leapfrog into telecommunications, we believe that they can leapfrog into distributed energy systems — maybe even teaching us a thing or two in the process.

Second, the president needs to understand that cap and trade is graveyard dead. We’re grateful (OK, not very) for the attempt to mimic George H.W. Bush’s successful trading scheme for acid rain, but action on climate change is best addressed by a simple and transparent price signal rather than through a command-and-control regulatory regime. The cap-and-trade legislation that went through the House and on to the Senate was hopelessly complicated, embarrassing in its free allocations, destructive of American manufacturing competitiveness and tax-toxic with government growth hormones.

Third, it’s essential that any pricing of carbon dioxide be revenue-neutral. Republicans will not support a carbon tax that’s revenue-positive. Any taxing of carbon dioxide must be coupled with either a dollar-for-dollar reduction in some incentive-destroying tax on income or a 100 percent annual rebate to the American people of the entire amount collected.

Admittedly, President Obama would have to set a very different tone in order for this conversation to succeed. He’d have to convince Republicans that he really wants to be the president he might have wanted to be from the start — a healer, not a divider. He’d have to lead his natural allies in extending grace to many Republicans who have heretofore rejected the science of climate change.

Meanwhile, Republicans would need to start stepping forward with the free-enterprise answer — a true cost competition between challenger and incumbent fuels where all subsidies are removed from all fuels, all costs are attached to all fuels and taxes are taken off of some form of income (something we want more of) and placed on something we want less of (carbon pollution).

Unlikely as it may seem following an acrimonious campaign, circumstances could bring the parties together. Superstorm Sandy was the exclamation point at the end of run-on sentence about droughts, floods, wildfires, heat waves, Arctic sea ice melt, Antarctic and Greenland land ice melt, ocean acidification, and record reinsurance losses. Just as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wisely heeded the short-term modeling by hurricane trackers, we Republicans need to join our friends in the casualty insurance industry in paying close attention to the longer-term modeling by climate scientists.

Up until now we’ve hesitated to do so because we’ve seen the big-government types rolling out regulatory regimes that would roll up money for a bloated government. Now, though, a no-growth-of-government solution is in the offing.

The other circumstance that could bring the parties together is the imperative of a fiscal fix. Whether it’s in a package to avoid sequester or in addressing the longer-term structural deficit, Republicans want tax reform and entitlement reform. A revenue-neutral carbon tax would give Republicans a way to broaden the tax base and to reduce marginal income tax rates. Democrats are looking for a way to address climate change. Both parties need a grand bargain that balances the budget, pays down the debt and reforms our tax code to be more competitive

The search for that grand bargain comes after the trauma of a financial collapse, the pain of the Great Recession, contentious surgery on America’s health care system and a $70 billion storm called Sandy. After all of that, can we bring America together to ignite a free-enterprise energy transformation that would grow our economy, improve our national security and clean up the air? Yes we can. Believe in America.

January 31, 2013

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Bob Inglis directs the Energy and Enterprise Initiative based at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Inglis, a Republican, represented South Carolina’s 4th District in the U.S. Congress from 1993 to 1998 and from 2005 to 2010.

This article is republished with permission from the Westlaw Journal Environmental. More information about subscribing to the Westlaw Journal Environmental is available here.