Lummis gets earful back home over carbon tariff vote

By Emma Dumain | 02/13/2024 06:39 AM EST

Activists are falsely accusing the conservative senator of supporting a price on carbon.

Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.).

Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in January. Francis Chung/POLITICO

Sen. Cynthia Lummis is facing conservative backlash back home for her vote to advance legislation that right-wing opponents say could one day lead to a carbon tax.

The criticism being lobbed at the Wyoming Republican shows the political toxicity around any effort to tie climate action to trade policy and the challenges advocates face in building support around the idea.

“It validates that we have a need to continue to socialize it,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said of the thrashing his bill is receiving in a conservative, fossil fuel-producing state.


Lummis was one of four Republicans to break ranks and vote in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last month for the “Providing Reliable, Objective, Verifiable Emissions Intensity and Transparency (PROVE IT) Act,” S. 1863, which Cramer, also a member of the EPW panel, has co-sponsored with Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware.

The bill would require the Department of Energy to study and determine the emissions intensity of nearly two dozen products made in the United States as compared with those of certain other countries.

The idea is to quantify the environmental efficiency with which the U.S. is making these products as compared with foreign trade partners. As the European Union proceeds with implementation of a carbon border adjustment mechanism — or CBAM — the U.S. should not risk having the EU assign carbon intensity measurements that don’t reflect the U.S. “carbon advantage,” proponents argue.

“The PROVE IT Act would show the superior production of U.S. goods over those of our global competitors’ emissions,” Lummis said in a statement to E&E News explaining her support for the legislation.

“Wyoming’s robust coal, oil, natural gas, critical and hardrock mineral industries must be safeguarded from other countries’ carbon tariffs. Our nation should be collecting its own data to combat unnecessarily large tariffs and taxes instead of ceding to foreign data.”

But Lummis and other Republicans endorsing the “PROVE IT Act” are battling a pervasive narrative that Democrats plan to use the bill to justify more aggressive climate policies.

In advance of the EPW Committee markup, more than 40 conservative advocates — led by Daren Bakst, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute — told lawmakers in a letter, “To think that the government would develop the administrative infrastructure to impose a domestic carbon tax without following through is naïve, at best.”

‘She’s not on an island’

Anticipating pushback, Cramer amended the bill in committee to bar it from ever being used to grant “new authority to any federal agency to impose, collect or enforce a greenhouse gas emissions tax, fee, duty, price or charge.”

However, Democrats have continued to boast that the “PROVE IT Act” is a critical building block for taking other actions to combat climate change, including by instituting a carbon tax or a U.S. CBAM, which opponents also consider a type of “tax.”

Soon after the committee cleared the bill 14-5, Mike McKenna, a longtime energy lobbyist and aide to former President Donald Trump, wrote in the conservative Daily Caller that EPW had passed an “energy tax” — with help, “most inexplicably,” from Lummis.

From there, the Wyoming Freedom Caucus — the local offshoot of the organization on Capitol Hill of which Lummis was a member when she served in the House — published a statement condemning Lummis for her vote on its Facebook page.

“We urge Senator Lummis to remind herself of three simple facts: CO2 is not a pollutant, Wyoming is coal country, and the ‘climate crisis’ is a hoax,” the statement concluded.

A local radio program, “Wake Up Wyoming,” also noted in a story on its website that “several listeners of [the show] sent text messages expressing concern that the Senator had voted for a carbon tax.”

The controversy has prompted Lummis to go on the defensive. She told the Cowboy State Daily she was “vehemently opposed” to a carbon tax and reiterated in a statement to E&E News, I have not and will never support a carbon tax.”

The pushback has also compelled her allies to speak up on her behalf.

George David Banks, a former Trump White House climate adviser who consulted on the “PROVE IT Act,” published an op-ed to the Cowboy State Daily, noting in his opening sentence that Lummis “voted to support [the bill] despite heavy lobbying from groups that oppose President Donald Trump’s America First trade agenda.”

If reelected, Banks explained, Trump would likely rely on data from the “PROVE IT Act” to “hold foreign economies accountable for their unfair trade practices, which includes using lax environmental compliance and enforcement to subsidize their industries at our expense.”

Cramer co-wrote an op-ed in The Epoch Times with Lummis to explain the legislation under the headline, “The European Union Wants to Tax American Producers. Here’s How We Can Protect Our Industries.”

Cramer said he teamed up with Lummis to show there were other conservatives on board with the “PROVE IT Act,” so “she’s not on an island” in her support for the legislation.

‘A back seat to no one’

Lummis also has support from the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. Its president, Pete Obermueller, recently wrote a letter addressed to the senator stating, for the record, his belief that “the bill text is clear that the PROVE IT Act of 2023 does not authorize a carbon tax.”

He said in an interview Monday with E&E News he wrote the letter because “Sen. Lummis asked us what we thought about the bill, because Sen. Lummis takes a back seat to no one when it comes to support for the oil and gas industry and the 19,000 oil and gas workers in Wyoming.”

But Obermueller also said he understood the anxiety around the legislation, describing a “very tense political environment where we have a federal government that is such an adversary to our way of life,” referring to the Biden administration’s targeting of energy production on federal lands.

“What that does is, it takes a bill like the ‘PROVE IT Act,’ and people say, ‘Look, that’s going to give a tool to the people who wake up every day and wish for our demise,’ and to a certain extent they’re right about that; I have no doubt that national Democrats and the Biden administration wake up every day and wish for our demise,” Obermueller continued.

“But that being said … I truly believe that oil and gas produced in Wyoming is the cleanest, most sustainable oil and gas produced in the world, and so we don’t really have to be fearful of our finding that out in an actual, legislatively commissioned study.”

The political environment Obermueller is describing is also being compounded by concerns about the agenda being pushed by Wyoming’s Republican governor, Mark Gordon, whose desire to make the state “carbon negative” resulted in a vote of no confidence against him by the Wyoming Republican Party.

“It’s been an issue for [Gordon], so I think it would be an issue for [Lummis] as well,” Wyoming state Rep. John Bear, a Republican and the chair of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, told E&E News.

Bear said Lummis, who isn’t up for reelection until 2026, has been on notice with conservatives in the state since her vote in 2022 to uphold the legality of same-sex marriage, “and now this is the second example where she has taken a direction that is different from what the people are expecting her to do.”

He said Lummis shouldn’t be “trusting the Democrats” that they won’t use the “PROVE IT Act” for “nefarious purposes,” adding, “We’re a very, very conservative state, with Trump winning 90 percent of the vote in my district — over 60 percent of the vote statewide.”

Cramer rejects the premise that Lummis isn’t conservative enough.

“She’s got great convictions; she votes her convictions,” said Cramer, who — like Lummis — is endorsing Trump for reelection.

“Cynthia is actually a star as far as I’m concerned — a perfect example of why we still have work to do [explaining this bill] to her constituency. But she’ll prevail.”