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Former GOP Rep. Bob Inglis says conservatives need “breathing room” to come around on climate change

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Bob Inglis believes that climate change is man made and very real, and he’s trying to persuade his fellow conservatives to believe that as well.

Cynics might say he’s fighting a losing cause, but the former South Carolina Representative believes that there are free enterprise solutions to climate change, and is convinced that’s the elixir that will allow Republicans to support efforts to combat global warming.

“That’s what I believe will move the needle here,” Inglis told this reporter on WMNF’s MidPoint program on Friday afternoon.”It’s a matter of showing Republican officeholders that there’s a path forward. But mostly that will come from Republican rank and file folks, supporting those leaders in saying, ‘yes, we’ll follow you. ‘”

Inglis is the in the Tampa Bay area for a number of public appearances this week. In the aftermath of his 2010 drubbing to Tea Party favorite Trey Gowdy, Inglis formed the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, a think tank at George Mason University devoted to pushing free-enterprise climate solutions. He was part of a panel discussion on Friday afternoon on the SPC-Seminole campus for the New Ideas conference moderated by Congressman David Jolly.

He originally served South Carolina in Congress 1992-1998. During that time he said he didn’t heed any concerns about climate change, but he adjusted his attitude after he decided to reenter the political fray in 2004. That’s when he said his 18-year-old son said he’d vote for him, but told him outright “you’re going to clean up your act on the environment.” That led him to look at the science, he says.

Inglis supports Floridians for Solar Choice, the umbrella group of conservative and progressive organizations fighting to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot next year that would allow Floridians homeowners the opportunity to purchase solar power from other businesses. That’s led to a bitter divide amongst conservative Tea Party-type groups in Florida, with critics like Americans for Prosperity claiming that the amendment calls for subsides for the solar power industry. Proponents disagree.

“Where are the subsidies?” he asks. “I think that’s what you can expect from people with entrenched interests. Typically they oppose innovation.” Inglis says the true conservative approach would be for Congress to eliminate subsidies for all forms of energy.

The Washington Monthly reported in 2011 that energy subsidies cost American taxpayers approximately $20 billion a year, with 70 percent of that going towards, oil, natural gas and coal. 15 percent went to ethanol, while large hydro-power companies received another 10 percent. The remaining 5 percent went to green renewables like wind, solar and geothermal.

Inglis is hardly a mushy moderate. He boasted a 93 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union when he ran for reelection in 2010, but his stances on climate and a few other key issues made him a piñata for hardline conservatives who took pride in defeating him that year.

The Republican Party’s aversion to believing in climate change seemed to reach its Orwellian apotheosis last week when it was reported that Governor Rick Scott had alerted staffers with the Department of Environmental Protection to refrain from ever using the terms “global warming” and/or “climate change,” leading Daily Show host Jon Stewart and his writers to mercilessly mock Florida earlier this week.

But Inglis says mocking or putting Republicans on the defensive by calling them names like “denialists,” is not the way to change their behavior.

“The environmental left likes to name and shame conservatives to get them on awkward position on something like climate. But you know, that’s not going to help us. What we’ve got to do is give them a little space so that they can back off of this awkward position of denying the science.”

Inglis voted against the cap and trade proposal in the House in 2009, but he does support a carbon tax, but only if it’s revenue neutral, meaning that there needs to be other changes to the tax system so that Americans ultimately aren’t paying any more out of their wallet to the federal government. He also says it must be “border adjustable, ” as a way to bring in China, the world’s biggest producer of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas. He says that would happen by removing our taxes on exports but imposed on countries that don’ have a carbon tax. He says if that were to be upheld by the World Trade Organization, “Then China would follow us in imposing a carbon tax internally. Then the whole world would follow.”

He acknowledges that will be a tough sell with his GOP breathren, and realistically says it can’t happen in the current Congress.

But he says that that Tampa Bay area citizens will have the chance to engage many of the Republican presidential candidates on their stance on climate change over the next year and a half. “Your listeners could have a big impact on this,” referring to the March 15 GOP primary election. “Perhaps they can ask the question this way: Can free enterprise solve climate change? In other words, don’t ask the question, ‘Is climate change a fact? Is it real, is is human caused?’ Any of that. That obviously puts the candidate in a defensive position, as they’re answering in front of a crowd that is conditioned by listening to various news outlets to disbelieve the scientists. So, ask the candidates, ‘can free enterprise solve climate change?'”

He says he defies a Republican presidential candidate to answer the question in the negative.

We’ll be watching.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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