House Republicans are ramping up their campaign against the Democratic leadership’s climate and energy bill — and telling business leaders to get with the program or get out of the way.

On Tuesday, a group of key Republicans hosted a summit on Capitol Hill to bash the Waxman-Markey bill as an “energy tax” that would cost average Americans $3,100 a year (though that figure has been thoroughly debunked). “This legislation represents, and is tantamount to, an economic declaration of war on the Midwest by liberals in Washington, D.C.,” said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who spearheaded the event.

Representatives from industry groups that oppose the climate bill, like the National Association of Manufacturers, spoke at the summit, but there were no panelists from companies and business groups calling for a carbon cap. The number of businesses advocating climate action is growing, and they’re becoming more vocal — witness Johnson & Johnson and Nike’s recent demand that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce stop opposing the House climate bill.

Grist asked Pence during a press conference after the summit what he would say to business leaders who argue that a climate bill is needed. “I don’t want to confirm that business leaders are asking for a cap or not asking for a cap,” he replied.

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Reminded that the U.S. Climate Action Partnership is asking for a cap — its members include the leaders of Duke Energy, ConocoPhillips, and DuPont, who told the House on April 22 that climate action is needed — Pence was dismissive.

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“Well, I am aware that some are,” said Pence. “I just would say to any American who is prepared to endorse a national energy tax, that there’s a better solution, and that they should keep their powder dry, and take their case to the American people that they don’t need, particularly during this very difficult time in the economic life of our nation, to raise the energy cost on our businesses and on American families.”

Watch the exchange on video (and then keep on reading below):

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Another reporter asked Pence whether he and other House Republicans believe climate change is a problem that needs to be addressed.

“I think you would find among House Republicans varying opinions on the man-made origins of global warming,” Pence said.

“But let me assure you, whatever Republicans may think about the science and the arguments over global warming, Republicans are all committed to a cleaner environment,” he continued. “We’re all committed to encouraging the development of clean-coal technologies, and cleaner air. And so while some may like to bog this debate down in the science over the man-made origins of global warming, we prefer rather to focus on let’s all move toward a horizon of cleaner air, and we believe we can do that without costing American jobs and putting an extraordinary energy tax on the American people.”

Asked about his personal beliefs on the subject, Pence said, “There’s no question there have been [climatic] changes … I am a skeptic whether or not man-made actions are responsible for that.”

The party of “no”

The summit also served as the kick-off event for a new coalition of Republicans calling themselves the “American Energy Solutions Group.” Chaired by Pence, the group includes familiar House climate skeptics like Joe Barton (R-Texas), John Shimkus (R-Ill.), and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

They plan to introduce an energy plan of their own that’s heavy on oil, gas, “clean coal,” and nuclear — much like the bill they introduced last summer and touted during an unsuccessful sit-in at the Capitol. Pence said they would have a new bill written by the end of the summer.

For now, though, the group’s focus will be saying “no” to the Democratic climate and energy bill. “Our first objective is to really expose the profound error of a national energy tax,” said Pence.

The Republicans also hope to foment disagreement among House Democrats, who are having a tough enough time on their own coming to agreement about the climate bill. “We call upon our fellow Democrats to say, let us reject this now,” said Fred Upton (R-Mich.). “Let us not proceed with this issue.”

Tuesday’s summit is just the first of a series of similar events to be held around the country. The next one is scheduled for May 27 in Indiana — Pence’s home state — to be followed by more in Pennsylvania and California.

The House Republicans are betting that this road show and the larger strategy of attacking a Democratic climate bill will give them a leg up in the 2010 elections. “The American people have a year and a half to decide whether to change management around here,” Pence said.