Democrats circulate carbon tax bill

A bicameral group of Democrats floated draft legislation Tuesday that would impose a per-ton fee on carbon emissions from the nation’s largest polluters, such as electricity generators and petroleum refineries.

“For far too long, carbon polluters have pushed the true cost of their pollution onto the American people in the form of dirty air, acidified water, and a changing climate,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who is spearheading the effort with House Energy and Commerce ranking member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

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The bill is not likely to go anywhere in the GOP-controlled House, nor in the Senate, where some centrist Democrats would join Republicans to oppose measures that affix a fee to carbon.

Still, the bill indicates a growing willingness among some Democrats to take advantage of a resurgence of climate change awareness after it spent years on the political backburner.

The bill, as Waxman noted in a Tuesday statement, is one of a few carbon tax proposals initiated by lawmakers, policy wonks and others orbiting Capitol Hill.

“What’s unique about this one is its novel design. We are seeking to craft a system in which each agency does what they are good at and that minimizes compliance burdens and administrative costs,” Waxman said in a Tuesday statement.

It would call on the Treasury Department to collect the fees based on emissions data the Environmental Protection Agency already gathers.

The Treasury Department would use those fees to offset higher energy prices, though the lawmakers are still taking input regarding the method of repayment. Options include energy rebates, reducing the federal deficit and lowering tax liabilities for businesses and individuals.

The co-authors are looking for comment on whether to assess a fee of $15, $25 or $35 on each ton of carbon emissions. They also want to know how much those fees should increase annually, between a range of 2 and 8 percent.

While the bill — and any other carbon pricing measure, for that matter — faces long odds in Congress, President Obama has pledged to take executive action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

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