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Bob Inglis meets with local officials

Bob Inglis, a former congressman from South Carolina, met with local public officials and others Monday at the McCormick Cafe to talk about climate change and the Clean Power Plan.

As the congressman who used to represent “the reddest district in the reddest state in the nation,” former U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., said Monday that free-market solutions are the best way to conquer climate change challenges.

Inglis, executive director of the group RepublicEN, which describes itself as “energy optimists, climate realists,” is in Montana to deliver a talk in Bozeman on Tuesday. He spoke in Billings on Monday at the invitation of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby to a small group that included State Sen. Roger Webb, the 2015 chair of the Senate Energy Committee, and Billlings City Councilman-elect Chris Friedel.

Inglis, who in 2012 founded the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., said Congress should cease offering production tax credits for green energy sources — such as wind, ethanol and solar — and should also require coal-powered electrical providers to bear the full cost of their emissions. He labeled that process “revealing the hidden cost” of small particulate emissions.

Wind farms should pay the cost of the birds their turbines kill, he said. Electric car manufacturers should be billed for the cost of disposing of their batteries.

“The free enterprise system will sort it out,” he said, in the same way that Uber will one day bring taxi service in cities like New York City to an end because of its convenience for customers.

Inglis said he recognizes that Montana and Wyoming “have lost some coal customers, and you’ll probably lose some more” because of proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations of greenhouse gases known as the Clean Power Plan. The use of natural gas will probably continue to grow as a result, but as Webb said, “Today natural gas is cheap. Tomorrow it might not be.”

Webb also noted that fires on U.S. Forest Service lands in Montana emit more pollutants than the Colstrip power plant.

Inglis says government’s role in reducing the ill effects of climate change is to be “the honest cop on the beat.” All the costs of providing energy from different sources should be on the table, with a carbon tax levied on what Inglis said is 2,000 coal and pipeline companies.

That tax revenue would pay for tax reductions for the bottom 70 percent of wage earners, he said, citing the Social Security tax paid by the server who brought Inglis his sandwich during Monday’s lunch-hour meeting at McCormick Café.

Prices will go up, but most Americans will have more money in their pockets to pay for the increase, he said.

“It’s a light touch government action,” he said, one also supported by some leading progressives, including former Vice President Al Gore, who won the Nobel Prize for his work on climate change. The biggest challenge convincing Congress to do something is “trying to make people believe in free enterprise and accountable markets” simultaneously, according to Inglis.

It could take Henry Ford-style ingenuity to help solve the problem, he said, citing disastrous late 19th century predictions that New York City buildings would soon be “up to their seventh-story windows in horse manure” until Ford developed the process to mass produce his Model T.

Unfortunately, “there are all kinds of good ideas (for innovation) out there today, but most of them aren’t economical,” he said. Current government tax incentives for alternative energy sources “are iffy, or they expire. It’s better to get rid of it all completely,” he said.

“This is going to require a big change. We’re not talking small ball here,” he said, especially considering the need for countries like China to make headway against its sizable air quality problem.

After Inglis’ talk, Friedel, who will take office next month, said that any climate change solution must involve “a balance between the economy and the environment.”

He said it’s also vitally important to be “responsible with taxpayers’ money.”

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City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.