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By Dean Scott
House Republican leaders this week are seeking to essentially force members to say whether they oppose or support a carbon tax, throwing a spotlight on the debate several months before the midterm elections.
The vote comes as Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), one of the leaders of of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, is working on a carbon tax bill that could call for using a significant portion of the proceeds for infrastructure, according to sources familiar with the discussions.
“The bulk would go to the Highway Trust Fund and infrastructure,” said one source who has been briefed on the bill and who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying it would amount to a “tax swap” that the carbon tax would effectively replace the federal gas tax.
A staff-level briefing was slated for late July 16 on the bill, according to multiple sources, but Curbelo’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on when he’ll introduce the measure.
Some portion also could be dedicated to increasing incentives for carbon capture and storage, clean technology, and assistance for low-income families to shield them from being affected by an uptick in energy costs related to putting a price on carbon, sources said.
The battle over the carbon tax resolution meanwhile is likely to be a replay of a successful 2016 floor vote on a resolution—offered then and now by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.)—opposing a tax on carbon emissions as harmful to the economy. The “sense of Congress” resolution (H. Con. Res. 119) isn’t legally binding because it doesn’t go to the president for his signature.
That 2016 resolution passed 237-163, with all Republicans backing it. The vote was a disappointment for environmental advocates who had pushed members of the Climate Solutions Caucus, particularly Republicans, to take tough stands on climate issues on the floor.
The new Scalise resolution goes before the House Rules panel July 17 and is expected to be voted on the floor this week.
While it’s expected to once again pass, environmental groups will be watching to see how Republicans facing tough re-election battles vote on the measure, Andres Jimenez, senior director of government affairs for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby environmental group, told Bloomberg Environment.
The resolution is being watched particularly as a test vote for members of the Climate Solutions Caucus, which now has 86 members, with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats.
Opponents of a carbon tax, including powerful conservative lobby groups like Americans for Tax Reform, argue it would cause energy prices to climb, raise unemployment, and reduce purchasing power and wages.
Since the 2016 vote, several Republican groups have formed to make a case in favor of a carbon tax. They cite polls showing that a majority of Republican voters are concerned about climate change and want government to act, and that it would let markets instead of government allocate resources, stimulate innovation, and encourage capital investment.
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