The American Enterprise Institute hosted an event with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich last week to promote his new book, Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less. Not surprisingly, most of the event focused on drilling, and there was also the anticipated admonition of a regulatory approach to limiting carbon emissions.

Gingrich did seem to acknowledge that at some point in the near future, regulations on carbon emissions are inevitable. He noted Denmark as an example of success in becoming energy independent — though he didn’t note that the wind energy industry there took off because the government subsidized it heavily in the early years. “They’ve had a strategy for 20 years, and it’s been a system of consistently having more energy on the terms that they want it,” he said. “We’re in the middle of a mess, and if we want to come out of this mess, we’re going to have to have a strategic direction for the country.”

Gingrich also called for a program like the Manhattan Project to get “clean coal” up and running. Someone in the audience asked him whether that would mean direct government sponsorship of the program. Here’s the response:

Look at rise of Internet. I think there is a place for the government to say we need this so badly, we should fund it. But I would externalize all the contracting. I’d have none of it done internally. Ideally I wouldn’t even have contracts. I’d have tax incentives. I think it’s perfectly legitimate for the government to shape the economy, this is also a point that Adam Smith makes. But I think it’s very bad to have bureaucracies engaged directly in doing things, because they don’t do them well, they’re very rapidly politicized, and they ultimately tend to become corrupted. Whereas as long as you have a marketplace competition, I think it’s worth doing.

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Government funding, he said, would probably be necessary in the early stages. “I think there are strategies for clean coal that would make it a form of alternative fuel that would fit the tax code that would immediately liberate private capital under private management to go and build them,” he continued.

I followed up with a question about Denmark subsidizing wind, what exactly Gingrich thinks should be subsidized, and what he thinks should be the government role in renewable energy. He didn’t directly answer the question:

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I am prepared to make a moral judgment that we are better off to find sources of energy that are a) American and b) have less impact on the environment. So I’m setting a standard. And I want to do so at the lowest possible cost, to maximize the availability for every American. So those are my goals. So I’m clearly biasing the system. You could say, boy, if we could just build an old-fashioned coal-plant, with nothing to take out the sulfur, nothing to take out any of the pollutants, nothing to take out any carbon, so it’s a lot cheaper, that’s true. So if you pick no winners, you could argue for all types of things that might work, which would cause side effects you’re not willing to tolerate.

Once you’ve defined the framework for what you’re trying to accomplish, I think you are much better off to set it up as a market competition in which any of the technologies can compete to achieve the standards that you’re trying to get, because the truth is you don’t know today which breakthroughs over the next 20 or 25 years are going to be the most decisive. And that’s why what I don’t want to have is a government bureaucracy that looks at applications, decides they’re going to pick company a over company b, or they’re going to pick technology z over technology a. But I am willing to say if you’re in this class of technologies, we’re going to encourage your development. And that’s something we’ve done for virtually all of American history.

Gingrich didn’t offer anything in the way of what “the framework” would look like, however.

And since the event was on the drilling theme, there was also the requisite call for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: “Fifty years or 100 years from now, historians are going to look back and think we were just insane,” said Gingrich. “There is zero practical reason. This is a theological fight, between those who have decided that if they chant ‘no’ long enough that they will have won a big fight about the nature of the future.”

Ah, seems like just yesterday that Gingrich was calling for A Contract With the Earth and cuddling up next to current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to talk about how “we” can solve the climate crisis.