Bipartisan Group Proposes U.S. Carbon Tax, But Would Free Fossils from Legal Accountability
A new U.S. lobby group with backing from both major political parties, at least three colossal fossils, and at least one major environmental group is planning an ad campaign and legislation for a nation-wide carbon tax that would start of US$40 per ton and increase over time.
The group, Americans for Carbon Dividends, is co-chaired by former Senate Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, and former Federal Reserve chair and Obama appointee Janet Yellen.
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Among its key provisions, the measure would protect fossil companies from lawsuits designed to hold them accountable for their carbon pollution and its impacts. Corporate supporters from within the legacy energy industries include ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and nuclear giant Exelon. The plan has also drawn the backing of Conservation International, the American Wind Energy Association, and First Solar Inc.
“It’s something that may command bipartisan consensus,” Yellen told the New York Times, adding that taxing carbon dioxide emissions to reduce energy use—which Donald Trump opposes—is “absolutely standard textbook economics”.
“The group says the plan could reduce United States emissions even further than the Obama administration pledged under the Paris climate accord,” the Times reports. At $40 per ton—a threshold the Trudeau government’s floor price on carbon won’t reach until 2021—the U.S. tax “would raise the cost of a gallon of gas by approximately 38¢, the group says, with similar effects on household heating and other energy use. That could, in turn, encourage people and businesses to become more energy efficient and curb their use of fossil fuels.”
To offset those price increases, a “carbon dividend” would return $2,000 to the average family of four in the first year.
“It’s not going to happen overnight—we’ve been debating this for 30 years,” Lott acknowledged. But now, “I really do think the tide is turning.”
“Giving the money back to consumers could sweeten the deal for taxpayers, but other parts of the plan are intended to foster support from other quarters,” the Times states. “Climate change regulations on businesses would be rolled back—although the Trump administration has already moved to rescind a number of existing rules.”
But the legal shield for fossil companies drew immediate pushback from within the climate community. “We categorically oppose any deal that shoves trillions in costs down the throats of innocent taxpayers and lets the companies skip away to profit and deceive another day,” said Rockefeller Family Fund Director Lee Wasserman.
But while Trump opposed carbon pricing during the U.S. election campaign, and Republicans passed a House resolution June 2016 that rejected the very notion, “there are signs that Republican sentiment is changing, with younger party members clamouring for action,” Bloomberg reports.
“Sooner or later, I think everybody realizes that the Republican Party needs to lead on this issue,” said Ted Halstead, CEO of the Climate Leadership Council. “So we’re teeing this up for when that tidal change comes.”
AFCD “is organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, freeing it to run paid advertising, lobby policy-makers, and conduct aggressive social and digital campaigns with the aim of building support for the carbon tax plan,” Bloomberg adds. “The group doesn’t plan to be active in this November’s [mid-term] elections, but organizers envision doing so in 2020.”
On Vox.com, veteran climate columnist David Roberts echoes the sense of a high-powered campaign in the making.
“In addition to bringing on Hill+Knowlton to handle communications, Americans for Carbon Dividends has hired Squire Patton Boggs, where Lott and [former U.S. Sen. John] Breaux are senior counsels, as lobbyist and Margaret Lauderback, an ally of [Trump energy secretary] Rick Perry and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, to lead fundraising,” Roberts writes. “Political consultant Mark McKinnon, a former advisor to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and former President George W. Bush, and Joe Lockhart, White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton, have signed on as senior advisers. Former Bush aide Karen Hughes is of counsel.”