Republicans like Rep. Kraig Powell (R Heber City) and Rep. Rebecca Edwards (R North Salt Lake) are concerned with what Powell sees as the increasing 'politicization' of science. The two have been working with former South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis to help transform the partisan debate on climate change in Utah.
Inglis, who now heads up the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, will be visiting the Salt Lake area next Tuesday and Wednesday for a series of talks entitled 'Unleashing the Power of Free Enterprise for Clean Air and Energy.'
In the 2010 election for South Carolina's 3rd District, Inglis was soundly defeated by Tea Party challenger Trey Gowdy. Inglis had suggested policymakers take the science behind climate change and global warming seriously.
"This is part of an effort to prepare the country for a free enterprise answer on energy and climate," Inglis said. "We approach this as more of an economic problem than more of an environmental problem. We maintain that if you fix the economics, the environmental aspects will follow naturally."
Inglis believes that conservatives have an "undeserved inferiority complex" when it comes to energy and climate. He says that they tend to "shrink in science denial" when the discussion arises. He applauds Republicans like Powell who are willing to lead on this issue.
"We're seeing what we can do to transform the partisan debate between the GOP and Democrats on climate and energy issues," Powell said. "It's become much more about allegiance and party than science and dialogue.
Powell and Edwards were two representatives who tried to get a dialogue started in the Utah State Legislature on climate change and wildfires through this year's House Bill 77, which was killed. The bill would have allowed the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands to develop fire presuppression strategies that are responsive to changes in climate.
Inglis will stress in his visit the importance of reducing taxes on income and shifting them to pollution.
"To the extent that we can identify externalities from things like pollution and health effects in addition to climate effects, [Inglis] wants to use government policy to recognize and then cause those industries to have to pay the prices their behavior entails," Powell said.
Inglis said his organization advocates a "true cost comparison" among competing fuels when all costs are factored in and all subsidies are removed.
"We believe that consumer-driven innovation will be faster and more efficient than anything government could mandate through regulations," Inglis said. "If [a true cost comparison] happens, then consumers in the liberty of enlightened self-interest will drive the innovation that will reduce emissions."
Susan Soleil has been helping Powell spread the dialogue on climate change. Soleil is the executive director of Utah Interfaith Power and Light, based in Salt Lake, which "inspires, educates and collaborated with faith communities to promote earth stewardship, clean energy and climate justice," according to Soleil.
"Anyone who drives into Salt Lake during the winter inversions knows the Wasatch Front has horrible air problems," Soleil said. "It's not good for health, children, the elderly, those exercising or for those hoping to draw new businesses here."
Inglis referred to an idea put forward by Art Laffer, the Economics Adviser to President Ronald Reagan, who said, "Reduce taxes on something we want more of income and tax something we arguably want less of carbon pollution. It's a win-win."
"It takes visionary conservatives to step up and say a price signal will work," Inglis said. "If you have competing fuels, exciting things will happen in the marketplace."
A conservative solution
Inglis' belief that conservatives fail to lead on the issues of climate change and energy he says paves the way for what he sees as the "command and control regulatory" approach. He likened conservatives' lack of participation in this dialogue to a child with great ideas never raising his hand in the classroom.
"If we fail to raise our hand in class, all the class is going to hear is the command-and-control regulatory approach," Inglis said. "We just think we're no good on energy and climate. But actually, we're the best. We have the answer it's free enterprise."
Perhaps part of the reason for conservatives' unwillingness to participate in the climate change dialogue, Soleil says, is because of the influence of the far-right Tea Party.
"[The Tea Party] is almost holding the moderate Republicans hostage. The reason [moderate Republicans] can't say they support climate change is because they'll be ousted," Soleil said. "The party doesn't accurately portray the people they represent."
Powell said he is inspired to continue this dialogue out of respect for the scientists and researchers who provide vital climate data in a non-partisan manner.
"I've talked with enough of these academics to convince myself that they have established a case that there is a human-caused phenomenon that we're experiencing that's unprecedented that's due to modern industrial activity," Powell said. "It bothers me to hear Republicans dismiss science as 'junk science' or subjective."
Rep. Edwards, who has four of the state's five major refineries in her district, emphasized that a conservative approach to science and energy development can be sensitive to environmental needs, especially air quality. She did, however, distance herself from industry-funded or politicized scientific research.
"You do read reports that say a variety of different things [about climate change], but if you look really carefully at where the research is being funded from or connect the dots and see the political biases there, it makes it not as believable," Edwards said.
Edwards thinks that if people knew that there was a conservative approach to climate change based on "legitimate, reputable science," productive discussions could begin to take place.
Expanding the dialogue
Inglis is using these talks in Utah as part of a greater effort to expand the national dialogue on the conservative approach to climate change.
"Utah is a wonderfully conservative state and we think that the Utah House and Senate members will be particularly effective in advocating this free enterprise solution," Inglis said. "There are some air quality issues that cause people to be thinking about it so it's probably more on the radar screen for folks in Utah."
Powell says that Republicans like him and Edwards are willing to take proactive solutions on climate and energy issues but that what is needed are more conservative leaders willing to "take some heat and think outside the box."
"There's a rising generation who are being educated in our universities that are educated on climate change and they're waiting on legislators to take action on this," Powell said.
Bob Inglis' public presentations will include: Tuesday, Sept. 17: The Hinckley Institute at the University of Utah, Orson Spencer Hall, Room 255, 11 a.m. to 11:50 a.m.; Shepherd Union Building, Weber State University, Skyroom (Room 404B), 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18: The Bill and Vieve Gore Building, Westminster College, Gore Auditorium, 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.