Former GOP Rep. Bob Inglis shares climate legislation strategy
By Flannery Winchester
Each month, Citizens’ Climate Lobby hosts an international call featuring a guest speaker to educate listeners on topics related to climate change and our Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal.
The guest speaker for September 2016 was former Congressman Bob Inglis. As a Republican representing South Carolina’s fourth district, Inglis introduced his own carbon tax bill in 2009. He has now founded RepublicEn, which is working to build support among conservatives for a market-based solution to climate change. Inglis joined our September call to share insight into the legislative process we’ll encounter as we work to get Carbon Fee & Dividend passed in Congress in 2017.
Conservatives for a carbon fee
Inglis is particularly interested in pricing carbon because, as he said, “It’s really quite bedrock conservatism to say that we really want accountability in the marketplace. We want people to be fully accountable for all their actions — and of course, that includes all of their emissions.”
Economists and climate scientists agree that a price on carbon is the fastest way to create that accountability. And for conservatives, Inglis pointed out, a carbon fee is definitely preferable to regulation. “Price signals are more powerful than regulation. They act more quickly, and in order to deal with climate change, we need to act very quickly.” Why are they so quick to create results? It’s all thanks to the free market, Inglis said.
“You have entrepreneurs trying to serve those customers who are moving away from the price signal, because they realize ‘Hey, there’s a steadily increasing price on carbon dioxide coming our way. That means we can sell the challenger fuels,’ ” Inglis explained. “It’s the power of free enterprise — we know it works.”
Strategizing for next year
So with that context, Inglis gave us some inside tips on the legislative process. It boils down to 3 key steps:
- Get someone excited. “The most direct route to getting something done in Congress is to have people that are on the relevant committees that are jazzed up about your issue.” When it comes to a Carbon Fee & Dividend, that’s the Ways and Means Committee. But even if we don’t identify someone on that committee who can advocate for the legislation, Inglis said, “All is not lost. If you’re passionate about something, that passion is infectious.” We can achieve great things even with representatives from other committees championing our legislation.
- Pick the right timing. When a representative prepares to introduce new legislation, they’ll be considering the national and local timing that might be favorable. Inglis said, “For example, the person who represents the district Elon Musk is building batteries [for electric vehicles] in. That person has a real local interest and timing.” Inglis said we should be prepared, watch for that right timing, and be ready to move when national consensus is there in support of the legislation. (And of course, bills are sometimes introduced to make a mark and start the conversation, Inglis said, which is another approach to take.)
- Prepare for the long haul. Inglis referenced the classic Schoolhouse Rock video “I’m Just a Bill,” where an animated bill sings, “It’s a long, long wait while I’m sitting in committee.” He cited Representative Rob Portman’s energy efficiency bill, which met with challenges and delays despite being broadly appealing to many different coalitions. Clearly, introducing the bill is just the beginning, so we’ll need to prepare for a long, but enthusiastic push even after Carbon Fee & Dividend is actually introduced. Inglis’ advice was to “approach it with patience, but also with passion and exuberance,” which sounds just like the CCL way!
Bottom line: Bringing America together
When it comes down to it, Inglis said one key way CCL can support Carbon Fee & Dividend legislation is to continue our approach of respect, connection, and consensus around the topic of climate change. For too long, Inglis said, Congress hasn’t been focused on consensus. “We’ve had people focused on speaking to activists within their own parties about all kinds of issues, and basically just meeting us in our fears — and occasionally, worst of all, driving our fears,” Inglis said. But, “the DNA in CCL is the way to transform that: through your activism, members of Congress get reoriented toward leadership aimed at consensus.”
And Inglis sees CCL as a group that can lead the way for others. He encouraged everyone on September’s call to help show other groups the “right kind of pressure” to apply to advance our cause. “It’s a pressure toward bringing people together, and bringing America together,” he said. And that togetherness is crucial.
Inglis closed his remarks by referencing JFK’s “moon shot” speech in September 1962, reminding us, “It was not an easy time. But he brought us together with a common thread. Sputnik was a common threat. Climate is clearly a common threat — it’s just not recognized as such yet. But with your work, we’ll get there.”