Who the GOP should pick for select committee on climate

If a select committee on climate change is established in the new Congress, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOn The Money: Treasury rejects Dem subpoena for Trump tax returns | Companies warn trade war about to hit consumers | Congress, White House to launch budget talks next week | Trump gets deal to lift steel tariffs on Mexico, Canada Congressional leaders to launch budget talks with White House RNC chair on Alabama abortion bill: I would have exceptions for rape, incest MORE should populate it with Republicans ready to enter the competition of ideas rather than disputers intent on running from the science.

Our party, the Republican Party, is best when it thinks big, when it aims at solutions rather than scapegoats and when it relies on data rather than dogma. There was a consensus that America would lead the world to solutions on climate change. It was well expressed as far back as 1990 by President George H. W. Bush. That consensus held through early 2008 as Newt Gingrich appeared in an ad with Nancy Pelosi, making the case for action.

 

Then came the Great Recession. Fear took hold. Vested interests used that fear to sell some nostalgia about the incumbent fuels, masking their real aim of extracting the last bit of economic rents out of their tired, old technologies.

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Republicans started saying, “I’m not a scientist” when they were asked about climate change. Years went by and that line began to poll poorly, probably because it was akin to saying, “I’m not a doctor, I have no position on health care; I’m not a truck driver, I have no position on highway funding.”

As Trump appointees sought confirmation the company line became, “Of course climate change is real, and we humans have a part in it; we’re just not sure how much of a part.”

Apparently, that line didn’t work too well for us in the 2018 elections. 

Now that Democrats are taking control of the House, a new line has appeared: “We need innovation, not regulation.” In the months to come, the obvious follow-up question to anyone using this new line will be, “How? How do we get innovation?”

This is great ground on which prepared conservatives can engage. Some of the most energized Democrats will be talking about regulations, mandates and incentives. Conservatives who are ready to talk solutions will have a fabulous opportunity to step forward with simple pricing mechanisms that would make Milton Friedman proud.

Republicans on a select committee could urge their Democratic colleagues to join committees of jurisdiction in asking for a dramatic increase of ARPA-E funding. A commitment to basic research into the fuels and materials of the future would be a winner for both parties because it would be a winner for America and for the world.

With constructive hearings, a select committee could begin the conversation about how to achieve commercialization of those technologies. Here’s where conservatives could shine. We could make the case for simple accountability, making all fuels compete with all of their costs transparently exposed to the marketplace. No more socializing soot. No more free polluting. Either capture the CO2 from your processes or pay the damages those emissions are causing. 

Once the full cost of the incumbent fuels and materials are revealed, demand will rise for the cleaner, challenger fuels and materials. Consumers, via the liberty of enlightened self-interest, will drive that innovation. 

If this internalization of negative externalities is accomplished by a simple carbon tax at the mine and at the pipeline, if that new tax is paired with a dollar-for-dollar reduction in existing taxes or a dividend of all of the carbon tax revenue back to citizens, and if the tax is applied to imports, America will lead the world to solutions. 

None of this will happen if conservatives continue to dispute the science. If a select committee is populated by disputers of the science, they will deepen the caricature of the GOP as a party out of step with the new realities. 

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With climate impacts upon us, it’s not a good idea to make climate change a laugh line. North Carolinians who saw Hurricane Florence drop 50 percent more rain than would have been expected won’t laugh. Californians who’ve experienced the connection between climate change and wildfires won’t chuckle. Western lumbering communities won’t see the humor in the denial of the connection between warmer weather and bark beetle reproduction rates. None of us will be laughing when we find out what happens when permafrost melts, dramatically increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

 It’s always hard to change a party’s talking points. They can be changed by courage and leadership, or they can be changed when they are obviously overtaken by facts and circumstances. Productive engagement on a select committee on climate change is within your power. Please use that power to lead our party to its new talking points on climate change. Let people who celebrate the science of climate change, people who represent districts with immediate climate concerns, people who know it's real, serve constructively on the climate panel.

Former Republican Rep. Bob Inglis represented South Carolina’s 4th District from 1993 to 1999 and 2005 to 2011. Inglis is the executive director of republicEn.org, a group of conservatives engaging conservatives on climate change.