Business leaders joined a group of House Republicans on Wednesday to denounce a tax on carbon emissions — a concept that they acknowledge has virtually no chance of being translated into law anytime soon.
But while they're confident such a tax has little chance of passing Congress, some Democrats and environmental groups still vehemently support it. President Obama's recent vow to aggressively confront climate change in his second term has helped resurrect the notion, despite the long odds.
"President Obama and his minions are floating the idea, bills are being introduced," said Rep. Joe Barton, Texas Republican, speaking at a Wednesday afternoon news conference outside of the Capitol.
"It's part of their agenda. We've decided that instead of being silent, it's better to be pro-active," he added.
As part of that offensive strategy, Mr. Barton and Rep. Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican and chairman of the party's study committee, introduced a House resolution opposing "efforts by Washington liberals to install a nationwide carbon tax."
It's not yet clear whether the resolution will get a vote on the House floor.
However unlikely a carbon tax may be in the short term, leaders in the energy, agriculture and other sectors also are fighting to keep it from ever seeing the light of day.
Rather than attacking the idea from an environmental perspective, some opponents of a carbon tax are painting it as an attack on the American middle class.
"I think consumers are generally accepting of price increases and decreases if they're happening in an honest market, but I think American consumers would really question why in the world the Congress of the United States would artificially increase the price of gasoline, diesel and heating oil. That's exactly what a carbon tax would do," said Dan Gilligan, president of the Petroleum Marketers Association of America, which represents more than 8,000 gas stations, heating oil businesses and other companies dealing the fuel.
The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, Fertilizer Institute, National Federation of Independent Business and a number of other groups also support Wednesday's resolution.
A carbon tax certainly wouldn't pass the House and would face an uphill climb in the Senate, but that isn't stopping proponents of the idea.
On Tuesday, four Democrats — two from the House and two from the Senate — released a "discussion draft" of their latest carbon tax proposal. It's not yet in legislative form and is open to public comment through April 12.
"Putting a price on carbon is the best way to reduce carbon pollution and slow the effects of climate change," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat and co-author of the draft. "For far too long, carbon polluters have pushed the true cost of their pollution onto the American people in the form of dirty air, acidified water, and a changing climate."
While they contain many differences, the Democrats' draft is reminiscent of the cap-and-trade legislation promoted by the White House and congressional Democrats in 2009, which ultimately failed amid bipartisan opposition. Three years later, that opposition remains strong.
The oil and gas industry is still arguing against a carbon tax, but leaders in the sector don't believe it's an immediate threat.
"I don't think it has much of an honest chance of being pursued" during budget and tax-code reform negotiations, said Marty Durbin, executive vice president of the American Petroleum Institute in a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning. "Now is not the time to do that. I don't give very high odds to the idea of a carbon tax."
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