Shell Oil quietly urges lawmakers to support carbon tax

By Benjamin Hulac, Kelsey Brugger | 08/24/2018 08:10 AM EDT

Lobbyists for Shell Oil Co. told members of Congress this year that Shell supports a nationwide carbon tax and encouraged lawmakers to price greenhouse gas emissions, E&E News has learned.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC CEO Ben van Beurden.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC CEO Ben van Beurden. Shell/Flickr

Lobbyists for Shell Oil Co. told members of Congress this year that Shell supports a nationwide carbon tax and encouraged lawmakers to price greenhouse gas emissions, E&E News has learned.

The company’s in-house lobbyists met with lawmakers in the Senate and the House, including Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who introduced a carbon tax bill last month.

In a lobbying disclosure form dated last month, Shell said its representatives had taken part in "discussions in support of a robust, transparent federal carbon price" in the second quarter of the year.


"We see carbon pricing as an essential policy tool to tackle climate change and pave the way for a smooth energy transition," a Shell spokesman said in a statement.

"Shell has long supported a strong and stable government-led carbon pricing framework," the spokesman said. "It’s our view Government-led carbon pricing mechanisms are the lowest cost way to develop low carbon technologies for a low carbon economy."

A small but growing number of conservative advocacy groups and energy companies have talked openly about their support for a U.S. carbon tax, in particular in exchange for rolling back environmental regulations. The chance of passing carbon tax legislation is remote in the Republican-led Congress, but Shell is quietly laying the groundwork for similar bills in the future.

Shell is not the only oil and gas major actively lobbying members of Congress for a carbon tax, industry sources said. Experts say the industry is not homogeneous in its approach to a carbon tax, with some majors taking more ambitious positions.

The Climate Leadership Council, a group led by former secretaries of State James Baker and George Shultz, began promoting a $40-per-ton carbon tax plan in June 2017.

General Motors Co. and four oil and gas majors — Exxon Mobil Corp., BP PLC, Shell and Total SA — support that plan, which includes a provision that would shield the industry from certain lawsuits (Climatewire, June 22, 2017).

"Shell is very straightforward that they feel a responsibility to support addressing climate change," said Alex Flint, director of the Alliance for Market Solutions, which backs a carbon tax.

Like many of its peers, Shell views a national carbon tax as a more efficient way to address climate change than piecemeal government rules.

A separate lobbying disclosure form filed by Shell in 2017 said the company was considering "Carbon pricing related issues and Shell’s role in the Climate Leadership Council."

Since then, Shell has organized meetings in Washington, D.C., with industry and environmental groups to discuss carbon taxes, according to people familiar with the gatherings.

"For Republicans, it’s essential that industry be a part of the discussions," Flint said. "Shell is committed on this issue."

Last month, Shell was one of 34 businesses that wrote a letter supporting concepts in Curbelo’s bill, the "Market Choice Act." BP America, Equinor US and Gap Inc., along with recreation and utility companies, also signed on. A market-based approach offers companies more certainty to help make long-term investment decisions, they wrote.

They stopped short of endorsing the bill but lauded the effort for advancing "non-partisan" and "robust" discussion on climate policies.

Joanna Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Curbelo, said in an email that the congressman is "especially encouraged to see energy companies’ engagement in favor of these policies."

Others expressed doubt about the companies’ intentions. Frank Maisano, senior principal at Bracewell LLP, which represents energy companies, suggested that some oil companies support taxing carbon because "politically, it’s not going anywhere."

Last month, just six House Republicans opposed a resolution stating that carbon taxes would be "detrimental" to the U.S. economy.