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Republicans Move to Kill Carbon Tax Before It Gains Steam


Jul 18, 2018, 11:38:13 AM, by Jennifer A. Dlouhy

(Bloomberg)

A new, Republican-led effort to tax carbon dioxide emissions isn’t likely to make it to a vote in the House of Representatives anytime soon — but opponents aren’t taking any chances.

The House is slated to vote as soon as Wednesday afternoon on a resolution offered by Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, condemning the very idea of a carbon tax as “detrimental” to the U.S. economy.

The move aims to undercut growing momentum for imposing a tax on the carbon dioxide emissions that drive climate change.

Prominent conservatives, including former Secretary of State James Baker and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson have advanced a plan to tax carbon dioxide and redistribute the revenue to households in the form of quarterly dividend checks. Veteran GOP political operatives are running a new campaign to buttress the idea, using funding from nuclear power generator Exelon Corp. and renewable manufacturer First Solar Inc.

And a key Republican, Representative Carlos Curbelo from Florida, is preparing to introduce legislation as soon as next week that would impose a carbon tax on oil refiners, gas processors and coal miners.

Carbon tax proposals have never made it very far in Washington, but Scalise’s measure aims to cut off these latest efforts at the knees. His anti-tax resolution is designed to lock in votes against the idea, weaken the ability of lawmakers to later change their minds and symbolically declare the Republican establishment’s opposition to the approach.

“It sends a strong signal to voters about where a member stands on the creation of a massive new energy tax,” said Paul Blair, director of strategic initiatives for Americans for Tax Reform, the conservative advocacy group led by Grover Norquist.

The group has been warning lawmakers that “new energy taxes are political losers” that “will get you unelected,” Blair said. “Innovation and the free market has already made the U.S. a leader in reductions without absurd new taxes on American companies, manufacturers and consumers.”

The House passed an identical non-binding resolution two years ago declaring that “a carbon tax would be detrimental to American families and businesses and is not in the best interest of the United States.” Every Republican who voted supported the measure.

First Since 2009

This time, the long-term prospects for a carbon tax are less theoretical, as Curbelo prepares to introduce the first GOP-sponsored legislation proposing a cap or tax on carbon dioxide since 2009.

According to a bill summary that was obtained by Bloomberg, the measure would force oil refiners and coal miners to pay a $23 tax on every metric ton of carbon dioxide — and in exchange end the gasoline tax and temporarily pause regulations on some greenhouse gas emissions.

Curbelo is developing “an innovative solution” to address carbon dioxide emissions and climate change, but the details are not finalized and the circulated summary is “not an accurate representation of the plan,” said the lawmaker’s spokeswoman, Joanna Rodriguez.

Carbon Pricing Spreads Along With Debate About Payoff: QuickTake

“Breaking a decade-long drought from one of our two major political parties on carbon pricing or carbon taxing is no small thing,” said Charles Komanoff, director of the Carbon Tax Center, which supports taxing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Curbelo bill is not slated to be taken up by House Republican leaders anytime soon and would probably be defeated if it did. But supporters say the measure has the potential to trigger an elevated discussion on carbon pricing. It also could illustrate movement on the issue, possibly helping to appease activists frustrated with a lack of progress.

Curbelo’s bill could aid the broader, long-term push to put a price on carbon dioxide emissions, said Joseph Majkut, with the libertarian Niskanen Center.

“We’ve waited for years for Republicans to see the merits of carbon pricing and to develop their own ideas for how it can move forward,” said Majkut, the center’s director of climate policy. “The more specific plans we see, the more other members of the Republican coalition can learn about all that a properly designed carbon tax bill can do in terms of raising revenue, fairly treating an industry in transition and efficiently reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Climate Caucus

The House vote on Scalise’s resolution could be politically treacherous for some moderate Republicans who are facing tough re-election contests, including some of the 42 GOP members of the climate caucus.

The group’s Democratic co-chairman, Representative Ted Deutch of Florida, said the vote is a critical moment “to show the American people that Democrats and Republicans can stand together against anti-climate efforts.”

“When a climate denier who represents the oil industry tries to squash even a discussion about a possible strategy for curbing emissions, my caucus colleagues must rise above politics and do what’s right,” Deutch said in an emailed statement. “Every member of Congress, especially caucus members, should keep all options available and not preempt an effective strategy before we even have an opportunity to debate it.”



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