Why oil companies are really supporting a carbon tax

By Michelle Klug

It sounds good at first. Major U.S. oil and gas companies are supporting a tax on emissions that cause climate change. But buried in the Republican-backed plan, called the Consensus Climate Solution, is a list of deregulation agendas that would dismantle the Clean Power Plan and undo other pre-Obama-era regulations that check fossil fuel companies. This seemingly progressive initiative is actually a veiled attempt to deregulate the industries that profit from polluting.

ExxonMobil, BP and others have signed on in support of the tax, which requires them and coal companies to pay $40 per ton of carbon. The money would be paid to the American people in the form of tax dividends, which the plan describes as an “insurance policy” against “risks associated with future warming,” but also comes through with typical climate-denying rhetoric, saying: “The extent to which climate change is due to man-made causes can be questioned.” The deregulations apply to emissions that 97% percent of scientists agree contribute to climate change.

The group pushing this legislation, the Climate Leadership Council, consists of former Republican politicians and businessmen who have teamed up with fossil fuel companies and large businesses. The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International are the two environmental orgs that have signed on in support, both echoing what Republican lawmakers say: Leave it to the free market.

They hypothesize that the $40 per ton carbon tax would be enough of an incentive to curb pollution that climate regulations wouldn’t be necessary. Others, like Greenpeace, have condemned the plan. “ExxonMobil will try to dress this up as climate activism, but its key agenda is protecting executives from legal accountability for climate pollution and fraud,” Greenpeace Senior Climate Campaigner Naomi Ages said in a statement.

The removal of emission regulations would technically allow companies to pollute more — they just have to pay a higher price to do so. And will a $343 billion company, whose profits are directly related to the production of fossil fuels, really be incentivized to stop polluting if major regulations were taken away?