Sen. Vitter alleges administration hiding internal discussions on a carbon tax

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) accused the Obama administration on Tuesday of shielding possible discussions on a carbon tax from the public.

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Vitter, a top Republican on the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner alleging the administration is hammering out details for a carbon tax proposal.

Vitter questioned Treasury’s denial of a Freedom of Information Act request from the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute think tank. The think tank sued Treasury last week for not releasing emails from the agency’s Office of Energy and Environment that contained the word “carbon.”

“A plan to tax carbon would inevitably be a tax on the public, so, by definition, every responsive record would on its face significantly inform the public,” Vitter wrote.

A Treasury official told The Hill that the agency had not received Vitter’s letter.

The Obama administration has said it would not propose a carbon tax, which would put a price on carbon emissions. A Treasury official last week elaborated that the administration is open to discussing a carbon tax if Republicans lead the effort.

But Republicans, notably House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), have largely dismissed the idea. They contend such a tax would undercut the nation’s economic competitiveness by raising costs on industry and consumers.

And Vitter said a carbon tax would hit low-income families harder than wealthier ones. He asked Geithner for Treasury’s most recent analysis on how the policy would affect such households.

The policy has grabbed attention in recent weeks as Congress attempts to avoid a spate of automatic spending cuts and income tax increases set to take effect Jan. 1.

With the East Coast still cleaning up super-storm Sandy’s mess, some viewed the carbon tax as a way to curb climate change effects that contributed to the storm’s intensity.

Some Democrats admit pushing a carbon tax is unfeasible in the current political climate.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), poised to chair the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said last week that passing a carbon tax would require a “big lift politically.”