A former Republican congressman who is an advocate for action to address climate change plans to launch a new conservative coalition this fall made up of Republicans who, like him, believe that human emissions are triggering global warming and that steps should be taken to stop it.
Former six-term Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) said he hopes his coalition will become a factor in the 2012 presidential and congressional elections -- and beyond. He said the view embraced by many Republicans that human emissions are not a major contributor to global warming is out of step with what it means to be a conservative, given that most scientists say the reverse is true.
"Conservatives typically are people who try to be cognizant of risk and move to minimize risk. To be told of risk and to consciously decide to disregard it seems to be the opposite of conservative," Inglis said in a telephone interview.
He said his coalition would seek to change that, even if the message takes a while to stick.
"What I hope to do is be a part of an effort that calls conservatives to return to conservatism and to turn away from the populist rejection of science," Inglis said. He conceded that he expects this message to take at least two election cycles to take root, given today's political climate.
Inglis, who lost a Republican primary last year to a more conservative challenger backed by the tea party movement, favors what he calls "free enterprise" policies to address climate change over a cap on carbon emissions. He said the group would look for ways to stimulate a private-sector response to the problem.
"We're looking for ways for the free enterprise system to solve the problem, rather than having big government do it," he said.
Inglis' preference for a private-sector approach led him to oppose the comprehensive climate change bill that passed the House in 2009, even though he had been outspoken in defense of climate science. In November of last year, a few months after he lost his primary, Inglis told the Energy and Environment subcommittee on which he served as ranking Republican that he was glad the members' testimony would be on the record, because future generations would know where they stood on climate change.
It was already clear that the new Republican majority would target regulations aimed at reining in greenhouse gas emissions, but Inglis cautioned against delaying action on climate, saying it would place the United States at a competitive disadvantage in low-carbon industries like alternative energy.
"We may just press the pause button for the next few years, but China is pressing the fast forward button," he said.
Some current Republican members of Congress said they like that they could be part of a coalition like the one Inglis envisions.
"I would welcome that," said Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.), adding that there is a group of Republicans that would support action on climate change.
"I've been a proponent of a climate change agenda for the Congress," Bass, a rare Republican moderate, said. He said, however, that Republicans would not support a cap-and-trade bill like the one sponsored last Congress by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), which was widely panned by the GOP as a tax.
"That kind of approach obviously overshot the target and was unacceptable to the Republicans. So some other approach has to be used," he said. Bass said he would support a clean energy standard for electricity.
Many House Republicans have been unwilling to embrace the need for carbon abatement in any form. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) said his views were summed up in a letter he forwarded to E&E Daily signed by J. Hunter Chiles III, a retired professional engineer. "CO2 is NOT the major global warming gas," Chiles wrote. He argued that 85 percent of global warming gases are attributable to naturally occurring water vapor.
"Basically, for me it's not going to be a priority," said Whitfield, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce energy and power subcommittee.
Inglis said details of his project were still being worked out but that he hoped to both mobilize Republican supporters of climate change and support GOP candidates who would be allies on the issue. He said he expects the effort to take time.
"We hope to ... enter the debate for the presidential primaries and be relevant for the 2012 congressional cycle," he said. "The effort will be ongoing beyond that."
Markey, who chaired the Energy and Environmental subcommittee in the last Congress, said he hoped Republicans would come around to the need for action on climate change quicker than the next few political cycles.
"We can then have an informed discussion about what we can do to change the way man adds to the problem," he said. "When we reach that point, I think we can pass real solutions out here on the floor, and I think it is happening."