Conservatives Working to Walk Back Denial – Opening to Carbon Tax Initiatives

July 12, 2012

“Science is neither conservative nor liberal; it’s evidence-driven. Scientists, including those of us who are politically conservative, hope for an early end to the populist rejection of science and a return to evidence-driven scientific inquiry. Conservatives have a critical role to play in meeting the challenges posed by changing climate, and the Energy and Enterprise Initiative provides a vehicle for them to do so.”


“One need not take a side in the debate regarding manmade global warming in order to support improvements in US energy policy. Instead, by eliminating subsidies for all fuel types and making all fuel types accountable for their costs, free enterprise will make clear the best fuels for our future. Reduce taxes on something we want more of–income–and tax something we arguably want less of–carbon pollution. It’s a win-win.”


Art Laffer was the architect of the Reagan economic program. Bob Inglis is a former Republican Congressman from South Carolina. Both of them think that a carbon tax might be a cool, and cooling, idea.

Energy and Enterprise:

FAIRFAX, Va., July 10,2012George Mason University announced today the formation of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative(E&EI), a nationwide public engagement campaign led by former Congressman Bob Inglis that will explore and promote conservative solutions to America’s energy and climate challenges.  E&EI will operate from Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication (4C).

The initiative, according to its mission, will be “guided by conservative principles of free enterprise and economic growth, limited government, liberty, accountability and reasonable risk avoidance.” Committed to developing real solutions, E&EI will also critique policy prescriptions that expand government and hinder free enterprise.

E&EI will sponsor policy papers from conservative scholars, students and activists.  It will partner with conservative thought leaders, businesses, and other organizations to host panels, conduct outreach, and voice the case for conservative leadership on energy and climate. E&EI will convene forums around the country that bring together economists, national security experts, climate scientists and interested citizens to explore the power of free enterprise to solve the nation’s energy and climate challenges.

“Congressman Inglis has a unique and important point of view — that free enterprise is the best answer to our nation’s intertwined energy and climate challenges,” said Ed Maibach, director of 4C. “We hope to learn a lot about public understanding of these issues by studying how the public responds to E&EI’s public engagement initiatives.”


Those who watched former U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis grow more and more interested in climate change and energy policy — and who saw his blowout loss in 2010 — won’t be too surprised by his new effort to build a conservative constituency for these issues.

It’s interesting what the target audience is (many former constituents have certainly made clear that they aren’t interested). Inglis said his focus in public speaking engagements and with other economists will be college students and even young evangelicals — the conservative demographic that he believes is most dissatisfied with the Republican Party’s current stance on these matters.

Note: a well informed source tells me that republican pollsters are quietly warning their clients, congresspeople and senators – that unless they walk back their stands on 2 key issues, climate change and gay marriage, “..nobody under 30 is going to vote for them in 2016.”

Atlanta Journal:

Let’s hear it for heretics.

Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina, is one of them. He lost in a GOP primary in 2010 largely because he acknowledged that manmade climate change is real.

“For many conservatives, it became the marker that you had crossed to Satan’s side — that you had left God and gone to Satan’s side on climate change,” Inglis said after his defeat.

Today, Inglis announced creation of an “Energy and Enterprise Initiative” to promote conservative answers to climate change.

“Conservatives have the answer to our energy and climate challenge,” Inglis said. “It’s about correcting market distortions and setting the economics right. We need to stop retreating in denial and start stepping forward in the competition of ideas.”

(If only he could cite some evidence to back up his claims that climate change is real. You know, like the warmest June on record in the continental United States, or the warmest 12 months on record in the continental United States, or a notable increase in the number of strong storms, droughts and other phenomenon predicted by climate scientists.)

Rabidly denialist Competitive Enterprise fumes about traitors in the conservative movement – in this case, the conservative bastion American Enterprise Institute (AEI) – quietly working to open the discussion on carbon prices.

CEI – AEI holds Fifth Secret Meeting to Promote Carbon Tax:

Today, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a prominent conservative think tank, hosted a secret, four-and-a-half hour meeting of pols, wonks, and activists, including several self-identified ’progressives,’ to develop a PR/legislative strategy to promote and enact a carbon tax. This was the fifth such meeting to advance the ”Price Carbon Campaign/Lame Duck Initiative: A Carbon Pollution Tax in Fiscal and Tax Reform.” An annoted copy of the meeting agenda appears at the bottom of this post.

Perhaps not coincidentally, earlier this week former GOP Congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina launched the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, an organization promoting carbon taxes. Inglis obtained funding for the project from the Rockefeller Family Fund and the Energy Foundation, both left-leaning foundations.

Left-right coalitions can be principled and desirable. For example, I worked with environmental groups to help end the ethanol tax credit, and I work with them now to develop the case for eliminating the ethanol mandate. We collaborate because we share the same policy objective, even if not always for the same reasons. The free marketers want to end political meddling in the motor fuel market and the environmentalists want to end federal support for a fuel they regard as more polluting than gasoline. The common objective is consistent with each partner’s core principles.

We must kill this incredibly harmful idea as quickly as possible.  We can start by letting our contacts at AEI know what we think of their plotting to foist a carbon tax on America.

This is troubling because the dumb party has an uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Stopping Obama’s war on affordable energy is a key GOP campaign theme in 2012, and the base is upset because the Supreme Court just upheld the Obamacare individual mandate as a tax. Yet some GOP influentials now call for an open, unvarnished tax on affordable energy.

The GOP’s only clear product differentiator – and most durable political asset — is its reputation as the no tax increase party. The Inglis and AEI initiatives, if successful, would destroy this asset.

Yeah, I had a “scooby doo huh? moment”  at the mention of the “dumb party” here, too.

9 Responses to “Conservatives Working to Walk Back Denial – Opening to Carbon Tax Initiatives”

  1. Jeremy Nathan Marks Says:

    I am not politically conservative so I am always a little skeptical when I hear conservatives extol the free enterprise system as offering the answer to all of our problems. However, if there is a willingness on the part of conservatives to sit down and actually discuss a pollution tax I am all for that discussion. Maybe then we can start hammering out the particulars of how we could apply that tax initiative. Imagine having a produtive conversation on taxation and environmental protection in this day and age!

    What would be interesting about a pollution tax is that we could also look at making companies responsible for their packaging as well as their emissions. “Pollution Tax” has a more attractive ring to it politically, but I think what is open for discussion is an “output tax.” Sure, Inglis and Laffer probably like this idea because it has, on the surface, all the features of a flat tax. But it seems to me that if we had a graduated pollution tax (with progressive features built into it) producers and consumers alike could share the responsibility of regulating their output.

    Thank you for sharing this. I chuckled seeing Laffer keep hedging on “man-made” global warming.

    • I’m not an economist, so I’m less than agnostic when Laffer talks about economics and taxation. Anyway, pleased that he thinks that a carbon tax is “less damaging” than a progressive income tax. Let’s compromise the GOP way, and get both.

    • otter17 Says:

      Free markets are wonderful, but certainly not perfect as there are plenty of historical examples to show some failings in key areas.

      For one, markets are causal, or react to forces in the present day. They do not anticipate things like peaking of finite resources or climate change. Thus simple mechanisms for pricing carbon lend a helping hand.

      Climate change represents a pretty large failure in the idea of free market, and that gets some contrarians panties in a twist. Rather than address the issue at hand, the science is attacked instead.

      • Jeremy Nathan Marks Says:

        I agree with you.

        I am an historian by training and if my incomplete knowledge of markets, economics and political science has taught me anything it is that all of these often lack an historical sense. Much of the theorizing and modeling that is popular in contemporary American economic and political science is based on choice theory which is notoriously unhistorical.

        So, I think you’re definitely right.

      • lambdais3 Says:

        As any student of finance knows, or anyone who borrows money to complete a project knows, there is a time value of money and there is value in anticipating the future. Business rivals and investors strive to anticipate the future. How far into the future they look depends on how high inflation is and how much high their borrowing costs are. That is, they look at their the discount rate. A high discount rate means that they care more about the present while a low discount rate means they will give more weight to the future.

        So, I have to disagree on the assertion that markets fail to anticipate future conditions. Their failings occur where their assumptions are violated. They fail when information is inadequate or access to information is unequal. They fail when economic transactions fail to include all parties that are affected (these are “externalities”).

        The role of a climate tax or an emissions trading system is to incorporate the cost of the externalities of burning fossil fuels into the market for those fuels. That also means, to me, that the use of the funds raised in a tax system should be designated for mitigation and adaptation, rather than being squandered on unrelated projects.

  2. Jeremy- Yes, I too am skeptical of “the free enterprise system as offering the answer to all of our problems”. If it caused or even allowed the problems, why would it be the solution? In an ideal world, beneficial, desired outcomes may be subsidized and detrimental, undesirable outcomes taxed. What we have is just the opposite. Oil, coal, and nuclear are subsidized and wind has just lost its subsidy. Do you think we might get the cessation of all subsidies for fossil fuels? Probably not until they have lost their grip on the government. I would have to say, tweaks to the system like taxes and subsidies have had mixed success, precisely because large corporations and powerful interests can control them without consideration of the benefit of the entire society.
    If you play monopoly, you play to win all the properties and control everything, not to benefit other parties. I see no major contradiction to the rules of that game compared to the way corporations behave. Their only nemesis is grassroot support for pollution controls and other public benefits. For the most part, large corporations win that game. They are bigger, stronger, and more powerful. Taxes and subsidies are a way of patching a system that does not do what we want without intervention. Maybe the system itself is the problem. After all, how can a system that rewards annual percentage growth, (exponential growth) be compatible with sustainability? What do we do, fix the system by adding a tax on excess children? If so, we have that upside down also, because income taxes go down with dependents. It looks like it will take a lot more than a carbon tax to fix all this. The system of annual percentage growth is the bedrock of the entire economy (banks,corporations), government, and society (consumers). Its important to look at it realistically and realize all the results of it.

    • lambdais3 Says:

      There are other ways to encourage and discourage behavior besides subsidies and taxes. The threat of criminal and civil persecution, enforcement of regulations, stimulating consumer preference (e.g. public service announcements, etc.), education, and more can be brought to bear.

      The libertarians out there will not agree that subsidies and taxes are the ideal way to encourage right behavior, so that tack will not gain their support. I wish it were not needed and I believe the current libertarian influence will wane over time.

      Anyhow, I’m all in favor of a price on net carbon emissions, whether by taxing or trading systems.

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