e360: You’ve talked about a key moment in your  campaign that occurred, I think, in Spartanburg at a big tent meeting. Can you describe that?
Inglis: Yes, at the Landrum airport. It’s a small landing strip, which is a great place to have events. There’s a big tent out there… So a question comes to me from the Christian talk radio host who is moderating the forum, and he says, “This question starts with Bob Inglis. Congressman Inglis, do you believe, yes or no, in human causation of climate change?” And you know, I have a terrible habit of answering questions, so I said, “Yes.” And boo, hiss, comes the crowd. It’s audible hissing and booing…
The same question was then asked of the guy who ultimately beat me. He’s a trial lawyer, a prosecutor guy, and so he had what I thought – I had to give it to him – was a fabulous answer. He said, “Inasmuch as it hasn’t been proven to the satisfaction of the people that I represent, the answer is no, there is no human causation in climate change.”
e360: A very lawyerly answer.
Inglis: Do you think that’s how we should handle all scientific questions – put them up for people to decide? “What do you think? Gravity, yes or no?” Well, let’s let the people decide! It was a particularly good answer at the moment, for him. It won him the applause of the crowd.
e360: What do you believe the U.S. can do to really address climate change?
Inglis: I think we should send a price signal. That means fixing the economics so all costs are in on all the fuels and there are no subsidies. A bill I had in Congress is one way to do it. There are other ways, but the bill that I had was a $15 a ton tax on carbon rising to $100 a ton over 30 years. And I was always open to whether that trajectory should be changed. The reason I had such flexibility is because of what I would say next: You then offset that [carbon tax] with a reduction in payroll taxes, dollar for dollar. And that’s why I was so flexible. It’s a tax swap, that’s what I was talking about. It wouldn’t grow the government, and it would approximate the attachment of these negative externalities to combustion fossil fuels.
Another key element, I think, of what needs to be part of the package is that it should be a border-adjustable tax, so it would be removed on export and imposed on import – unless the trading partner has a similar pricing mechanism, in which case their goods would come in without an adjustment. But it’s very important, I think, that we not decimate American manufacturing by simply pricing carbon in our own economy with the effect of exporting productive capacity to countries that have greater energy intensity and therefore larger CO2 emissions.
e360: This was something that you offered in Congress as an alternative to the cap-and-trade bill that was out there at the time?
Inglis: Right. I voted against cap-and-trade.
Inglis: It was hopelessly complicated, and it was embarrassing in the free allocation [of allowances to specific pollution sources or industries] that undermined the whole schema. It was dangerous to American manufacturing. I know they had a border-adjustable element, but I was never convinced that it worked. And it was a significant tax increase without any corresponding tax reduction. And I’m not into growing government. I’m a conservative. So I’m into getting the economics right, but not growing government in the process. And so you’ve got to give me a corresponding tax cut if you’re going to price carbon.
What I introduced is called the Raise Wages, Cut Carbon bill, and if you Google that, I think you can find it. It’s fifteen pages as opposed to the 1,200-page cap-and-trade.
e360: You’re taking your message now to conservative audiences and business audiences? Who are you aiming your initiative at, and how are you going about reaching them?
Inglis: We’re spending a lot of time on college campuses speaking to college Republicans, Federalist societies, and young evangelicals. The reason is that they’re open to it, because they’re taking economics and chemistry and physics. They’re really a little bit embarrassed by what’s on the [conservative] radio, because they know it doesn’t match up with what they are learning in economics, physics, and chemistry. And so we want to help them to see there’s a way that you can be conservative, not want to grow government, and actually be for social-issue accountability, which is a key component of what social-issue conservatives believe. You’ve got to be accountable. Behavior has consequences, so attach the cost to something so that the market can judge it.
These students are open to that message, and we hope these students will be ambassadors to their parents and grandparents. Those are the harder demographics for us. Their parents and grandparents are harder – especially the grandparents, who feel an attack on their way of life.
e360: Do you think environmentalists are in some ways to blame for this because the approach has sometimes been to hector people about their lifestyle and their responsibility for these things?
Inglis: I think so, because it’s like my ad guy on my campaign says to me. He says, “We all like change, just we don’t like to be changed.” We want to be the change agent, but we surely don’t want to be the one who gets changed by somebody else. We want to be in the driver’s seat on that.
And so what happens often when the left is talking to the right about these issues, it seems like it’s coming across as, “We know better than you do. You’re a bunch of hicks from the sticks. We’re so much smarter than you are. We’ve got scientists who tell us this and that. We’ll design a regulatory system that will fix things, because we can’t trust you to make good decisions.” That’s one way it comes across – and it’s offensive to conservatives.