Baucus: 'Creeping' interest in carbon tax

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBottom line Bottom line Bottom line MORE (D-Mont.) said interest in carbon taxes among senators is “creeping up,” but his House GOP counterpart flatly said he’s not open to the idea.

Baucus, the top Senate negotiator in tax code overhaul talks, said Friday that “everything is on the table” and that he wants to “take the temperature” of Finance Committee members.

He noted increased interest but said it’s unclear whether the idea of a carbon tax can gain any real political momentum.

“There are more members of the Senate now who openly talk about that than I have experienced. It is creeping up a little bit. Is that going to rise to the level of where it is a very strong, serious provision? I don’t know. But I am not going to pre-judge it,” Baucus said at an event hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.

Baucus said carbon taxes would be among the “non-traditional” revenue sources that Finance Committee members will discuss next Thursday.

The committee has been holding a series of bipartisan meetings on tax code overhaul options. Committee staff, without endorsement, have put carbon taxes on the table for tax overhaul talks.

But at the same event Friday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) flatly said, “I don’t support a carbon tax.”

“You might later,” Baucus countered.

“I don’t think so,” Camp replied.

Camp even noted his anti-carbon tax comment is a departure from his usual reluctance to make “declarative statements” about tax code overhaul options.

Camp’s position is consistent with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. An array of conservative groups that are influential with the GOP, such as Americans for Prosperity and the Heritage Foundation, are battling carbon tax proposals.

Proposals to tax emissions from coal, oil and gas have gained both new traction and fresh opposition of late, owing to the collapse of cap-and-trade legislation in 2010, the Beltway search for new revenue sources and renewed attention to climate change.

But while Baucus noted more interest in the Senate, advocates have miles to go in the Democrat-controlled upper chamber, let alone the GOP-led House. In a symbolic Senate vote on March, 13 Democrats joined 45 Republicans in opposition to the idea.

The White House, for its part, has vowed not to propose a carbon tax.

But a loose, left-right coalition of advocates is forging ahead with efforts to increase the political currency of the idea despite the extremely long political odds.

–Bernie Becker contributed