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Going green vs fossil

This week’s Clean Energy Summit 6.0 was Sen. Harry Reid’s green party, of that there can be no doubt.

Although deadlines compel me to file this before the Tuesday confab at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, I think I can say with some confidence that the green energy gathering will have been packed with optimistic assessments of the potential of solar, wind and geothermal for the Silver State and the rest of the nation.

Senate Majority Leader Reid’s leadership on this issue is unprecedented. For a man known for playing backroom politics better than anyone in our state’s history, Reid has been out front on this issue despite an extremely noisy opposition and the hard fact that renewable energy remains promising but pricy.

Although the lineup of speakers for the summit was formidable and ranged from former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, former Republican Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina figured to bring a refreshing conservative perspective on the conference.

Inglis spent a dozen years in Congress, much of that time as a devoted climate change-denier. When he decided to stop reading the talking points and started doing his own research, the weight of evidence was overwhelming.

“Along the way I had several epiphanies,” Inglis said in an interview on “KNPR’s State of Nevada” with Dave Becker. The former congressman added that his change of heart was also influenced not by members of his caucus, but by members of own his environmentally conscious family.

But these days GOP politics and climate science don’t mix — and not just in South Carolina, where a lot of folks still prefer their Earth flat. When Inglis changed his mind about climate change, Republican voters in 2010 his state changed their minds about Inglis. He now leads the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University and promotes the concept of using a revenue-neutral carbon emissions tax to fight climate change. Although some of his former colleagues in the House surely call him crazy, he calls it a genuinely conservative issue whose time has come. (I also noticed during the interview that he’s not exactly optimistic about its chances of surviving in a congressional atmosphere more poisonous than the one on Venus.)

“I’d been tossed out (of office), but once you’re tossed out and declared a heretic, why not just go out on the street and proclaim it?” Inglis said. “So that’s what I’m doing now.”

Although much of his rhetoric has been repeated elsewhere by less well-spoken advocates, the fact Inglis is a genuine conservative on a mission makes his view memorable and, I think, particularly salient.

For example, one of the most popular arguments against expanding renewable energy is the cost compared with coal and other fossil fuels.

“We’re dealing with hidden costs … associated with fossil fuels,” he said. “Right now, those aren’t attached to the products. They are basically allowed, the fossil fuel users, are allowed to privatize their profits while socializing their costs. They spread the cost over all society, in for example the small particulates, the soot, from coal-fired electrical plants. They foul lungs and cause hospitalizations and premature deaths. Those costs aren’t connected to the power that’s produced at those plants. If they were, we’d see the real costs of that power. And it wouldn’t be as cheap as we think it is.”

In a guest column for the Star Ledger of New Jersey Inglis offered, “We need pro-growth, pro-innovation policies that are affordable and flexible and that don’t grow the government. The best policies would actually shrink government.

“Here’s how that might work. Put a tax on carbon pollution that would accurately price the harm of those emissions. We can debate what that price should be, but it’s clearly north of zero. Pair that carbon tax with a dollar-for-dollar reduction in some existing tax on income. This tax swap would boost economic growth and innovation. Shrink government by eliminating all market-distorting energy subsidies and by repealing those Clean Air Act regulations that would be made redundant by the pricing of carbon.”

In his radio interview he added, “We’re not running a campaign against coal, but we do want all fuels to be fully accountable,” which he called a “true conservative concept.”

That’s not one of Reid’s green cheerleaders talking.

If that makes sense to you, maybe it’s time to think about using government to fight climate change and a healthier future for America.

Native Nevadan John L. Smith also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702 383-0295 or at jsmith@reviewjournal.com.

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