By Ben Geman - 12/11/12 04:44 PM EST
A senior Exxon Mobil Corp. official said Tuesday that the oil-and-gas giant isn’t pushing for a carbon tax, but called it the best policy option if lawmakers were to impose a cost on emissions of greenhouse gases.
The comments come as carbon taxes are receiving fresh attention in policy wonk and climate activist circles despite dim political prospects for enacting them.
“If policymakers are going to adopt a measure, a regime to affect or put in place a cost on the use of carbon across the economy, then as we look at the range of options, our economists and most economists would support a revenue-neutral, economy-wide carbon tax as the most transparent and efficient way of putting in place a cost on the use of carbon,” said Kenneth Cohen, the company’s vice president of public and government affairs.
But he made clear that the company is not encouraging policymakers to impose such a tax.
Cohen spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where Exxon officials presented their annual Outlook for Energy, which is a sweeping analysis of energy demand, supply and other trends in coming decades.
Cohen defended the company's record on climate at a time when Exxon and other oil companies are in the crosshairs of activists and some Democrats.
A pair of lefty groups, calling for end to federal support for fossil fuels, released an ad last week claiming that Exxon “hates” children due to its contribution to climate change.
Separately — and more broadly — climate activist Bill McKibben is leading a push for colleges and universities to divest their endowments of holdings in fossil fuel companies.
“It’s not easy being us,” Cohen quipped after a questioner at the company’s presentation raised the activists’ efforts and bashed Exxon.
“The challenge that we have being the world’s largest nongovernmental energy company is to continue produce the energy that the world runs on but to do it . . . with a lower greenhouse gas emission footprint,” he said.
“The world is going to continue to run for the several decades on conventional fuels,” Cohen said.
The company’s outlook projects that oil, gas and coal will remain the world’s dominant energy sources in 2040 even as renewable energy generation grows.
Cohen touted the company’s big investments in development of natural gas, which has lower carbon emissions than coal and oil when burned for energy, noting Exxon is North America’s largest gas producer.
“Switching power generation from coal to natural gas has a huge positive benefit in terms of emissions reduction,” Cohen said.
This post was updated at 12:23 p.m.