Sep 11, 2019

Carbon tax campaign unveils new details and backers

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

New details are emerging about a low-profile carbon tax campaign whose backers are confident will prevail in a climate debate defined by heated Democratic rhetoric and a lack of apparent interest by most Republicans.

Driving the news: U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would be cut in half by 2035 under a $40-a-ton carbon tax that increases 5% above inflation annually, according to a new goal in the plan. The proposal is being pushed by a coalition of strange bedfellows that includes corporations, environmental groups, former Republican politicians and economists.

Where it stands: The group, the Climate Leadership Council (CLC), is pushing a carbon tax whose proceeds will be refunded back to consumers. CLC was launched in early 2017 by former Republican leaders, including two former secretaries of states, James Baker and George Shultz.

  • Since then, the effort has gained impressive support from big oil companies and environmental groups, but it hasn’t found much Republican support in Congress.
  • Although Republicans are increasingly acknowledging climate change is a problem, few are on board with sweeping new policy, which this would be.

What’s new: The group has added two new corporate members — mining giant BHP Billiton and electricity provider Calpine — and plans to release a detailed legislative proposal.

  • The goal of halving U.S. CO2 emissions by 2035 is new, as is the 5% annual increase to the proposed carbon tax. This is far more ambitious than President Obama’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, but less aggressive than what most Democrats are calling for now.
  • The plan specifies that it would displace or preempt all federal regulations for stationary sources of CO2. This includes things like power plants, but excludes cars and trucks. It looks like an attempt at compromise in what is sure to be a dicey debate.
  • The plan also removes any mention of shielding companies from lawsuits alleging responsibility for damages connected to historical emissions. Removing the liability line could be significant because many see it as a must-have for big oil companies facing such lawsuits, though a similar proposal can always be added in the actual legislative process.

What’s next: Expect more news from the group in about a month, including more members, new financial commitments to its lobbying arm and a six-figure advertising campaign in DC, according to CEO Ted Halstead.

  • Halstead says the plan will be introduced in a bipartisan manner, ideally in both chambers of Congress, by year’s end.

Editor's note: This piece corrected the spelling of George Shultz.

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