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Climate change is not a topic Mitt Romney talks about very often. And polls show Republicans are far less likely than Democrats to believe in climate change or support policies to address it. But two new groups are trying to change the GOP's views from within, as NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Republican Bob Inglis has already paid a price for being out of step with his party. In 2010, amid a Tea Party surge, he lost his South Carolina congressional seat, attacked for, among other things, accepting climate science.
BOB INGLIS: Well, thank you very much. This is very exciting to be here at...
LUDDEN: These days, Inglis heads the Energy and Enterprise Initiative. He spoke recently to the energy club at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.
INGLIS: We think that free enterprise has the answer to energy and climate. And there's an incredible opportunity in energy if we just get the economics right.
LUDDEN: To do that, Inglis would do away with government incentives. No more tax breaks for solar panels or electric cars or subsidies for oil companies. Then, he'd impose a carbon tax on fossil fuels. We already pay more, he says, just in hidden ways: health impacts from coal-fired power plants, higher insurance costs from extreme weather linked to greenhouse gases. This market distortion, he says, leaves fossil fuel companies unaccountable.
INGLIS: And I get to privatize my profits and socialize my cost.
LUDDEN: Much better, he tells the business students, to pay the true cost at the gas pump or on your electric bill.
INGLIS: Then I, as a consumer out of enlightened self-interest, would seek out the company that you're going to found that's going to supply me with the alternative.
LUDDEN: Of course, Inglis knows any tax is a turnoff. He'd offset his carbon tax with a payroll tax cut. The business students seem receptive, though doubtful such a thing would fly with the current GOP. In fact, energy has become a surprisingly hot topic this campaign season. A slew of TV ads funded by fossil fuel interests echo Republican positions.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV AD)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Obama opposed exploring for energy in Alaska. He gave...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Better to produce more energy here like oil and natural gas.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Coal: It's affordable, abundant and ours.
LUDDEN: That was the American Energy Alliance, American Petroleum Institute and American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. Mitt Romney's energy plan relies on boosting the supply of oil, gas and coal, things he claims the Obama administration doesn't seem to want.
MITT ROMNEY: That instead, they want to get those things so expensive and so rare that wind and solar become highly cost effective and efficient.
INGLIS: Yes. Well, they are, in fact, cheap by comparison, if you compare the full cost.
LUDDEN: Bob Inglis is confident he can win Republican converts. And he's not alone.
MICHELE COMBS: I think our group gives them cover. Like, OK, let me go and see what this is all about.
LUDDEN: Michele Combs is with the Christian Coalition and recently launched Young Conservatives for Energy Reform. She became concerned about climate and energy while pregnant when her doctor told her not to eat fish because it contained mercury from, she later learned, coal-fired power plants.
COMBS: The more research I did on this issue, I realized this was really a family issue. It really affects everybody. Everybody wants clean air. And it was really sad that it was such a partisan issue.
LUDDEN: Combs has been organizing educational house parties around the country. Beyond health, they focus on national security and the large number of U.S. troops killed while transporting fuel. One thing she does not mention, the words global warming.
COMBS: You know how when you hear something and you immediately hear a buzz word you immediately turn off?
LUDDEN: Both Combs and Bob Inglis are careful not to sound alarmist. They want to reach those who may not even believe in climate change. Still, Inglis has thought long and hard about what he calls the populist rejection of climate science.
INGLIS: For conservatives, it's seen as an attack on our lifestyle. You can't live in the suburbs. You got to give up that big car.
LUDDEN: He knows people don't like to be told what to do. But Inglis remembers his dad teaching him to save gas, by letting up on the pedal and coasting. He says a party that once valued thrift now touts a philosophy of burn it up.
INGLIS: It's not conservative to waste stuff and to cause somebody else's kids to go in the sands of the Middle East to fight for that stuff that we're wasting.
LUDDEN: At stake, he says, is the most basic of conservative principles, whether we leave our children a place that's pleasant and livable. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.