House Votes Once Again Against Carbon Tax Proposals

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By Anthony Adragna

June 10 — Well over half of House lawmakers went on record June 10 opposing an economywide carbon tax and a proposed fee on each barrel of oil produced, despite no imminent chance of either of those policies being enacted.

Republican lawmakers said the votes on two non-binding resolutions showed overwhelming opposition to the policy proposals, which while not currently getting any traction during the Obama administration are seen as potentially viable as part of broader tax overhaul efforts by the next president. Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has said he opposes a carbon tax, while presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has not endorsed the idea.

“There's bipartisanship on this issue, and the bipartisanship is in opposition to a carbon tax,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), the sponsor of the anti-carbon tax resolution, said. “So why don't we go on record and be very clear about it? Not just that it's bad policy but to reaffirm how devastating it would be for the United States economy.”

Scalise's resolution (H. Con. Res. 89) passed by a vote of 237 to 163 with two voting present. The other resolution (H. Con. Res. 112) opposing the oil barrel tax, offered by Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), cleared the chamber by a similar 253 to 144 margin with two members voting present.

President Barack Obama proposed a $10.25 fee per barrel of oil produced as part of his fiscal year 2017 budget that would be used to boost low-carbon and clean energy transportation infrastructure, but Republicans called the idea dead on arrival.

Democrats Vote Against Oil Fee

Twenty-three Democrats broke ranks to oppose Obama's proposed tax on each barrel of oil produced: Reps. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), Brad Ashford (Neb.), Ami Bera (Calif.), Sanford Bishop (Ga.), Julia Brownley (Calif.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Gwen Graham (Fla.), Al Green (Texas), Gene Green (Texas), Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.), Ann Kuster (N.H.), Michelle Lujan Grisham (N.M.), Ben Ray Lujan (N.M), Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.), Patrick Murphy (Fla.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Cedric Richmond (La.), Raul Ruiz (Calif.), Krysten Sinema (Ariz.), Mike Thompson (Calif.), Marc Veasey (Texas) and Filemon Vela (Texas).

Just six of those same Democrats—Ashford, Bishop, Cuellar, Kirkpatrick, Peterson and Sinema—also voted yes on the resolution opposing any carbon tax.

The vote against a carbon tax for Peterson, Cuellar and Bishop stands in stark contrast to their votes in favor of 2009 legislation (H.R. 2454) to essentially impose a carbon price using an emissions trading system. Kirkpatrick opposed that measure, while Ashford and Sinema were not in Congress at the time.

One Republican—Rep. Richard Hanna (N.Y.)—voted against the oil fee resolution; all House Republicans voted to block a carbon tax. Those include members of the Bipartisan Climate Caucus, including Reps. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) and Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.).

Two members voting present on the oil fee legislation were Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), while the two voting present on the carbon tax resolution were Reps. Lujan Grisham and David Jolly (R-Fla.).

‘Political Effort, Solely.'

House Democrats criticized Republicans for refusing to hear from experts on how to design a well-functioning carbon tax.

“We just voted on two bills that aren't going anywhere,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. “They have no chance of passage. What did you want to do? You wanted to play politics.”

Hoyer said holding votes on the two resolutions was a “political effort, solely.”

“We had that chance [to design a carbon tax] and we haven't done it, but this will not be the last word,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said. “This meaningless resolution will undoubtedly pass today. It's not going to have any impact in terms of the long-term. We're on a path to price carbon and we have the capacity to do so in a thoughtful and effective way.”

Democrats, including Reps. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and John Delaney (Md.) and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Brian Schatz (Hawaii), have introduced a number of approaches to pricing carbon this Congress. None of those proposals have received consideration in the Republican-controlled chambers.

A number of prominent Republicans, including former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson and economist Arthur Laffer, have endorsed a carbon tax. Major corporations that have already adopted an internal carbon fee include Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Microsoft Inc., Chevron Corp. and General Electric Co.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said the carbon tax resolution was designed to stifle any debate on what many economists argue is the most efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is short-term thinking and economic folly” to ignore environmentally beneficial ways of raising much-needed revenue, Beyer said. “A carbon tax should, in fact, increase the cost of fossil fuel,” he said. But it would also drive down the cost of renewable energy sources “and perhaps, even nuclear” power, he said.

With assistance from Dean Scott in Washington.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com