GOP hits Alaska’s Sen. Begich on ‘radical’ carbon tax

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is launching robo-calls in Alaska Wednesday alleging freshman Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who faces reelection in 2014, backs a “radical” tax on carbon emissions.

“What does that mean for Alaska besides more EPA red tape regulation?” the call states, alleging a carbon tax would spike energy prices and cost jobs in Alaska. “Higher taxes, higher energy costs, and Senator Begich just don’t work for Alaska,” it says.

The roughly 70,000 calls are part of wider GOP efforts to hit vulnerable Senate Democrats on carbon policy as President Obama touts his second-term climate plans (although a carbon tax isn’t among them).

The calls are going to female voters and “likely” male swing voters, the Senate GOP's campaign arm said. Begich could face a tough 2014 contest in the conservative state that Mitt Romney won in last year’s presidential election.

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The freshman Democrat hit back Wednesday. 

“As Senator Begich has said before, Alaskans don't appreciate out-of-state groups telling Alaskans what to think and this is no exception,” said campaign manager Susanne Fleek in a statement.

“Senator Begich is busy traveling around Alaska fighting to strengthen our military bases, continue moving forward on Arctic development, and finding education solutions that meet our state's unique needs,” she said.

The NRSC's allegation is based on a vote Begich took during debate on a nonbinding budget resolution in March.

He voted for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-R.I.) failed amendment that would carve out space in the budget for future carbon tax bills, but only if the revenue is returned to the public through deficit reduction, reducing other rates, cost savings, or other “direct” benefits.

Begich also opposed Sen. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) amendment to require that any future carbon tax legislation requires 60 votes to pass. It died in a procedural vote, getting 53 supporters when 60 were needed.

The Whitehouse amendment, shoehorned into the process-heavy language needed for the budget resolution, wasn’t quite a black-and-white vote on whether to tax carbon emissions.

But the liberal Whitehouse has floated draft carbon tax legislation, and the dueling votes on the nonbinding budget were widely viewed as a symbolic showdown over taxing emissions from coal and oil.

Begich’s campaign on Wednesday did not say where he stands on carbon tax proposals, which have little traction on Capitol Hill. But the campaign disputed claims that he voted in favor of a carbon tax in March.

“It is important to note that the Whitehouse amendment was to make sure that if there was a carbon tax the revenues must go to debt relief,” the campaign said. 

The campaign also noted that Alaska is “ground zero” for climate change and that “he believes we must address it but the Senate has yet to reach a bipartisan solution.”

Begich, in an interview with The Hill this month, expressed skepticism about taxing carbon emissions.

But he also said Alaska is seeing the effects of climate change and that action is needed, noting “there’s no debate on the science.” Begich noted his support for renewable energy and producing more oil in Alaska.

He has broken with the White House by supporting oil-and-gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is off-limits to development.

In recent years, Begich has also pushed the Interior Department for faster permitting of Royal Dutch Shell's efforts to drill in federal waters off the state’s northern coast.

– Cameron Joseph contributed

This post was updated at 11:42 a.m. and 12:38 p.m.