The Grand Oil Party: House Republicans denounce a carbon tax

On Friday, the US House of Representatives voted on a Resolution condemning a carbon tax. As The Hill reported:

Lawmakers passed, by a 237-163 vote, a GOP-backed resolution listing pitfalls from a tax on carbon dioxide emissions and concluding that such a policy “would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States.”

Six Democrats voted with the GOP for the resolution. No Republicans dissented.

The oil industry is scared of a carbon tax

ExxonMobil officially supports a carbon tax, but the company did not comment on the House Resolution prior to the vote. Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute, which is a key lobbying group of the oil industry, including ExxonMobil, publicly supported the anti-carbon tax resolution, as did Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) suspects that the Resolution itself originated from the oil industry:

And it’s not just a matter of lobbying by Big Oil and the Koch operation on how Republicans ought to vote; given their control over the Republican Party, it is very likely that the vote itself was brought up at their behest.

Since 2009, ExxonMobil has contributed at least $1.7 million to members of Congress who voted in favor of the resolution, according to an analysis by

There are some indications that GOP leadership pressured House Republicans to vote for the Resolution. They certainly succeeded: of the 8 Republicans who are members of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, whose purpose is to craft optimal climate change policies, 7 voted for the Resolution. Only Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) withstood the pressure, voting “Present.” 

Ultimately, 231 of the 246 Republican members of the House (94%) expressed their unwillingness to consider a carbon tax by voting for the Resolution.

Why the House Republicans are wrong

It’s odd that not a single House Republican voted against the Resolution, because as long as the revenue is returned to taxpayers (also known as “revenue neutrality”), many conservatives support a carbon tax. This concept is supported by free market, libertarian, and conservative think tanks like the R Street Institutethe Niskanen Center, and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). AEI resident scholar Aparna Mathur said of the vote:

It is worrying to me that the House would consider legislation to oppose a common-sense approach to addressing climate change. Instead of relying on dozens of federal and state regulations that themselves are costly, a carbon tax would be transparent and cost-effective.

Polls show that about half of Republican voters support a carbon tax if revenues are rebated to taxpayers. It’s also supported by the non-partisan grassroots organization Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), whose advisory board includes Ronald Reagan’s former Secretary of State, George Shultz. CCL issued a point-by-point response to the carbon tax “pitfalls” listed in the House resolution.

For example, the Resolution noted that a carbon tax would cause energy prices to rise, which would particularly impact the poor, who spend a larger fraction of their income on energy. However, a study found that if the revenue were returned equally to individual taxpayers, rebate checks would more than offset increased energy prices for 58% of individuals, including 82% of low-income families. In other words, most poor households would actually benefit from this policy.

British Columbia provides a real-world example of a revenue-neutral carbon tax (offset by cutting income taxes) that’s proven successful in cutting carbon pollution, while its economy has continued to grow faster than the province’s neighbors. 61% of British Columbia residents support the policy, and businesses think the tax should be even higher.

In short, while a carbon tax could indeed have adverse economic impacts, these can be overcome by crafting smart policies that will instead benefit the economy while simultaneously tackling the risks posed by climate change. 

Crafting that type of policy is purportedly the purpose of the Climate Solutions Caucus, 88% of whose Republican members voted for the anti-carbon tax Resolution. Either the Caucus isn’t serious, or the oil industry’s influence over the GOP is tremendously strong.

A vote against a carbon tax is a vote for EPA regulations

In 2007, the US Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide qualifies as pollution. As a result, legally the EPA must regulate carbon pollution, and is in the process of creating rules as part of the Clean Power Plan. While conservatives can take actionto slow that process, they can’t stop it.

That is, unless US Congress passes legislation to replace government regulations with some other process to cut carbon pollution, for example with a free market system like a carbon tax. In short, conservatives must choose between government regulation or a carbon tax, and thus a vote against a carbon tax is essentially a vote for EPA regulations.

Silver lining: the oil industry is scared

Despite the vote, CCL Legislative Director Danny Richter sees reason for optimism:

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Posted by dana1981 on Monday, 13 June, 2016

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