CLIMATE

Supporters laud 'momentum' for carbon tax despite House vote

The fact that the House is taking up a resolution opposing a carbon tax shows that the idea of putting a price on the greenhouse gas is gaining traction, some supporters of the policy argued yesterday.

In a floor speech yesterday, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said that the idea of a carbon tax has momentum and that he believed the debate and vote on the resolution would move the discussion forward in Congress.

"Honestly," Polis said, "this is the first sign of momentum for a carbon tax cut -- and you'll hear me referring to it as a carbon tax cut because that's essentially what it is: using carbon tax revenues to cut taxes for the American people."

"You don't see these kinds of resolutions if a concept and an idea doesn't have momentum," Polis added.

The nonbinding resolution sponsored by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) states that the sense of Congress is that a carbon tax would be "detrimental" to the U.S. economy and disproportionately affect poor people.

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The House is expected to vote on the resolution this week, along with a resolution that opposes President Obama's proposed $10 tax on barrels of oil. Both are likely to pass along mostly party lines.

While many conservative and free-market groups are urging Congress to pass the resolution, some conservative organizations are pushing for a carbon tax as the most economically efficient policy to address climate change.

Catrina Rorke, director of energy policy at the R Street Institute, said yesterday that the resolution was mostly a product of the contentious politics around climate change but that it signaled that efforts to sway more conservatives to rally around a carbon tax were having an effect.

The R Street Institute supports an economywide carbon tax in lieu of regulations and in which the revenue is used to reduce taxes on capital and income. The institute also supports cross-border price adjustments so that companies exporting goods overseas are not penalized if other nations don't put a price on carbon.

"We're having some traction, so that's why the politics are rearing their ugly head this week with a vote on the House floor," she said.

Former South Carolina Republican Rep. Bob Inglis, whose group RepublicEn is pushing for a carbon tax, said he was "not discouraged" by the House resolution.

He predicted that more Republicans would come on board with the idea of a carbon tax as climate change impacts, such as wildfires and lack of snow, become more apparent.

Already, sea-level rise in Florida has driven some Republicans in the Sunshine State to seek congressional action on climate change (E&E Daily, April 19).

"What's happening is that people are going to come to an awareness of the need, and they're going to be looking for a solution," Inglis said. "But the solution has to be one that's acceptable to us."

A carbon tax could keep government from "getting too big," something that appeals to conservatives, Rorke said.

For example, she said, if a carbon tax were in place instead of U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan, it would mean EPA wouldn't have to devote staff to state planning efforts that are required under the program. The Clean Power Plan, which is currently frozen by the Supreme Court, requires states to put in place plans to lower carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

"We don't want to see EPA grow," she said.

Getting rid of EPA greenhouse gas regulations -- Rorke ticked off fuel efficiency regulations and Department of Energy efficiency rules as other rules that could be eliminated -- would be a hard pill for environmentalists to swallow, though.

Polis, who yesterday quoted conservatives who support a carbon tax, predicted that there may be up to a dozen Republicans in the House who support a carbon tax. He said that the upcoming vote would put members on record.

"I think this discussion moves us forward," he said, "because I fully expect there will be bipartisan opposition to this resolution, which opposes, presumably, any and all carbon tax cuts."

In August 2013, the House passed an amendment to an anti-regulatory bill that would require the administration to receive approval from Congress before implementing a carbon tax. That amendment, which also stated that a carbon tax increases energy costs for consumers, was approved by a 237-176 vote.

To be sure, Inglis said, the price of electricity, gasoline and other commodities would likely go up under a carbon tax. Higher prices would represent the actual cost of those goods by taking into account environmental damages, he said.

The Niskanen Center, a libertarian carbon tax supporter, also acknowledged in a recent blog post that "one could agree almost entirely with the statements" about economic doom made in the Scalise resolution and a companion Senate measure.

But a carbon tax would still be in the interest of the United States because revenue collected from the tax would offset "many of the negative aspects of higher energy costs," the center argued.

Inglis said that Scalise's home state of Louisiana, which has experienced a natural gas boom in recent years, would be particularly well-positioned under a carbon tax given that electricity produced from gas has a lower carbon footprint than coal.

"If I were the Louisiana Natural Gas Association, that's how I'd be speaking to Steve Scalise," Inglis said. "I would be saying, 'Steve, why are you doing this resolution, man? We've got money to be made here in Louisiana.'"

Twitter: @apeterka Email: areilly@eenews.net

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