Conservative groups press lawmakers to reject proposals for a carbon tax

Conservative groups pressed lawmakers in a Wednesday letter to oppose all proposals to enact a carbon tax.


The organizations pushed back against proposals for a "revenue neutral" carbon tax, a design that some policy experts have floated as a way to win support from fiscal conservatives. That structure would use revenue from taxing emissions to reduce other tax rates or would return that money to consumers.

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But the 14 groups sending the letter warned lawmakers not to believe those claims. “Promises of revenue neutrality will be broken” they argued. They added that “reducing U.S. emissions won’t stop or delay climate change.”

Some outside conservative groups had floated the idea of a carbon tax as a way to both curb emissions and raise revenues to close the deficit. Climate activists joined those calls, saying pricing carbon would create momentum for increasing efficiency and expanding clean energy.

Proponents of a carbon tax believe their proposals could enter the conversation if Congress takes up tax-code reform.

But many congressional Republicans have swatted away the carbon tax concept, saying it would harm U.S. economic competitiveness relative to fossil fuel-burning China and India. And some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said Congress should not institute a carbon tax merely to raise revenues for the Treasury Department.

Democrats have said passing such a tax would be difficult. Attempts at getting comprehensive climate legislation through Congress have been absent since 2010, when a cap-and-trade bill died in the Senate after passing the House.

Instead, the Obama administration has pushed ahead with various rules aimed at reducing emissions. Those measures include finalizing vehicle fuel-efficiency rules and imposing the first-ever air pollution standards at new coal-fired power plants.

At the same time, greenhouse gas emissions have fallen on their own because more power plants are burning natural gas instead of coal. Natural gas has half the carbon intensity of coal, and the abundance of supply from the shale gas boom has driven prices to record lows.

Congressional Republicans have used that as a basis to call for more natural gas drilling, putting pressure on the White House to open federal lands for natural gas development.

The groups writing to Congress, which include The Heartland Institute, Freedom Action and Competitive Enterprise Institute, made that point in their letter.

“This decline is accelerating as low‐cost natural gas, made possible by the shale gas revolution, induces utilities to replace high‐carbon coal power with lower‐carbon natural gas power. Other market factors also are inducing a long‐term decline in carbon intensity, and no new taxes are necessary to continue this trend,” they said.