Supporting a Carbon Tax is Climate Denial? Five Things the NYT Missed in Latest #ExxonKnew Piece

This week the New York Times published a new history of ExxonMobil’s support for a carbon tax over cap-and-trade proposals that failed to pass Congress in 2009 and 2010. As we’ve come to expect, the piece gives a platform to environmentalists who are desperately trying to revive the discredited #ExxonKnew campaign. That campaign has taken on new urgency ever since Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson was nominated to serve as the nation’s next Secretary of State.

In the New York Times piece, Exxon’s critics try their best to turn the company’s support for a carbon tax and its support for climate science into a strange form of carbon and climate denial. But in the process, they completely rewrite the history of the carbon tax and cap-and-trade debates. And for its part, the newspaper relies heavily on key players in the #ExxonKnew campaign without mentioning their bias against the company or their broader campaign to persecute anyone who disagrees with their views on climate policy.

Here are the five most important things the article failed to mention:

  1. A carbon tax was absolutely on the table

The New York Times piece scolds Exxon for supporting a carbon tax in 2009 when the Obama administration was pushing Congress to pass much more complicated cap-and-trade legislation. The newspaper quotes consultant Bennet Freeman telling the company:

“You guys don’t have the credibility to put forward a carbon tax when that’s not on the table. You’re going to have to embrace cap and trade if you’re going to be seen as credible.”

But in early 2009 there was bipartisan support in the U.S. House for a carbon tax. On the left, the effort was led by House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.), who called the carbon tax “a simple solution that people can wrap their arms around.”

In fact, Rep. Larson’s case for the carbon tax used many of the same arguments as Tillerson did when he announced Exxon’s support for the policy in January 2009. In the New York Times piece, Tillerson is quoted from that speech, calling a carbon tax “a more direct, a more transparent and a more effective approach” than cap-and-trade, which would lead to speculation and a “new Wall Street of emissions brokers.”

In March 2009, when introducing his carbon tax bill, Rep. Larson made much the same argument:

“I believe that the best way to address climate change is the way that is simplest and most transparent. … Rescuing our environment should not be an excuse to create a new market for investors to exploit. … Our planet is too precious to put in the hands of Wall Street executives looking to make a profit. … The American people simply do not want another system they might have to bailout.”

In May 2009, two Republican House members – U.S. Reps. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) –introduced their own carbon tax bill. It was a bipartisan measure, cosponsored by U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.). Rep. Inglis has been hailed by climate activists since leaving Congress and Rep. Flake is now a U.S. Senator.

Like other carbon tax advocates, Rep. Inglis took aim at the complexity of the so-called carbon market that would be created under a cap-and-trade law: “It’s a carbon-credit trading scheme similar to the Wall Street fiasco we’ve just seen,” he warned.

No matter how much #ExxonKnew activists try to rewrite history, there was a genuine policy disagreement in early 2009 between carbon tax advocates and those who preferred cap-and-trade. Ultimately, House Democrats went with cap-and-trade in the form of the Waxman-Markey bill, which narrowly passed the House but quickly unraveled in the Senate.

Trying to turn support for a carbon tax into some kind of nefarious plot, as #ExxonKnew activists are doing, is the height of desperation. And for that theory to hold water, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus must have been part of the conspiracy, along with many other climate advocates who also had big problems with carbon cap-and-trade.

  1. Leading climate advocates and major environmental groups opposed cap-and-trade

The New York Times writes:

“Both carbon taxes and cap and trade put a price on carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that makes a major contribution to climate change. Both can reduce emissions, and policy experts endlessly debate which would be more effective. But in January 2009, one difference was clear: A cap and trade plan sponsored in the House of Representatives by Henry A. Waxman of California and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, both Democrats, was gaining bipartisan support. A more straightforward carbon tax was going nowhere.”

In fact, the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill had a number of prominent detractors, including some of the world’s leading climate advocates. James Hansen, the climate scientist and activist who famously warned the world about climate change in 1988, called cap-and-trade “the temple of doom.” Hansen called the Waxman-Markey bill “an exceedingly inefficient way to get a small reduction of emissions. It is less than worthless.”

Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, said “a cap-and-trade system can be more easily manipulated [than a carbon tax] to allow additional emissions” and added that it is “less desirable than a carbon tax.”

A professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, Roger Pielke Jr., wrote at the time Waxman-Markey was being considered that “it might lead to some new and substantial revenues for the government, but it can never succeed at limiting carbon dioxide emissions.”

Likewise, many environmental groups were similarly opposed to the cap-and-trade method of regulating and pricing carbon emissions.

Greenpeace released a statement ahead of the Waxman-Markey vote in the House saying that it opposed the bill, adding that “to support such a bill is to abandon the real leadership that is called for at this pivotal moment in history.” Friends of the Earth also opposed the bill, calling the bill “counterproductive.”

A coalition of 41 environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity and Citizens Climate Lobby, wrote in a letter that cap-and-trade schemes have been plagued by “fraud, instability and ineffectiveness.”

Indeed, James Hansen actually blames environmental groups like those quoted in the New York Times story for inaction on climate change, accusing “Big Green” of becoming “one of the biggest obstacles to solving the climate problem.”

  1. Many Democrats opposed cap-and-trade

If you read closely, even the New York Times admits that blaming Exxon for the collapse of the cap-and-trade bill is a tenuous argument at best. Check out all the qualifiers in this particular passage:

“Ultimately, the cap-and-trade bill was unsuccessful, passing the House in 2009, but failing to reach the Senate floor. The bill died for many reasons, including a struggling economy. But intense lobbying against the bill by energy companies, including Exxon, had an effect.”

You bet there were many reasons for the demise of the cap-and-trade bill. Strangely, though, the New York Times didn’t mention the biggest single reason – the bill was opposed by many Democrats.

While the cap-and-trade bill narrowly passed the House in June 2009, there were 44 Democrats in the chamber who voted no. With only 8 Republicans voting in favor of the bill, one could argue that the opposition to cap-and-trade was more bipartisan than the support for it, as the Times article claims. Earlier that year, 26 Democrats in the U.S. Senate joined Republicans to put the brakes on cap-and-trade by blocking any attempt to use the budget reconciliation process to pass such a bill.

When the House cap-and-trade bill did make it over to the Senate, it never came even close to getting a floor vote because of resistance from Democrats. In addition to critics of the cap-and-trade system, there were also Democrats from industrial, agricultural and energy-producing states who feared the economic and employment impacts of any kind of added price to the cost of oil, natural gas and coal.

In fact, the Breakthrough Institute – an environmental think tank – concluded that “only 35-40 votes” would have been cast in favor of cap-and-trade in the heavily Democratic Senate of 2010 if the legislation was ever brought to the floor.

  1. Natural gas has driven the decline in U.S. emissions

The United States is the only country in the world that has significantly reduced its greenhouse gas emissions, and that decline in emissions came about not because of the Kyoto Protocol or a cap-and-trade bill, but because of fracking and an increase in natural gas. Exxon is the largest natural gas producer in the country and has helped the United States work towards its carbon emissions targets.

The EPA’s latest Greenhouse Gas Inventory shows that the United States’ CO2 emissions have declined 9 percent since 2005, largely because of “increased natural gas consumption and other generation sources.” In its Fifth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change wrote that “the rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal-drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply…is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.”

Even environmentally focused Democrat leaders have credited the natural gas industry with reducing the country’s emissions. President Obama recently said:

“Interestingly enough, one of the reasons why we’ve seen a significant reduction of coal usage in the United States is not because of our regulations. It’s been because natural gas got really cheap as a consequence of fracking

[Some environmentalists’] attitude is we got to leave that stuff in the ground if we’re going to solve climate change. And I get all that. On the other hand, the fact that we’re transitioning from coal to natural gas means less greenhouse gases.” (emphasis added)

At a congressional hearing recent Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine (D-VA) said,

“You know we’ve been improving our emissions in this country without agreeing to the Kyoto Accord, without congressional actions, because of innovations in the natural gas area.”

  1. The activists quoted are all funded by the Rockefellers

To a person, all of the anti-Exxon voices quoted in the New York Times article are on the Rockefellers’ payroll. The Rockefellers recently publicly admitted to paying for every aspect of the #ExxonKnew campaign.

Kert Davies attended a secret strategy meeting at the Rockefeller Family Fund offices this past January where the attendees set out “to establish in the public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution” and “to delegitimize them as a political actor.”

Steve Coll is in hot water after he failed to disclose that the Rockefellers funded his own anti-Exxon hit pieces that ran in the Los Angeles Times.

Naomi Oreskes is one of the architects behind the #ExxonKnew campaign and organized the now infamous 2012 La Jolla Conference with the Union of Concerned Scientists at which activists brainstormed ways they could launch racketeering investigations into ExxonMobil. She also sits on the board of the Rockefeller-funded Climate Accountability Institute, which attempts to attribute carbon emissions to specific companies.

Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists is one of the two #ExxonKnew activists who briefed Attorneys General Eric Schneiderman and Maura Healey ahead of their March 29 press conference announcing Healey’s investigation of Exxon.

Toward the end of the New York Times story, there’s a stunning piece of reporting. The newspaper says Frumhoff wants to turn the upcoming Secretary of State confirmation hearings into “a public trial” of Tillerson, Exxon and their views on climate change.

Anyone with a cursory knowledge of U.S. political history should find that idea completely objectionable, of course. But that’s how bad things have gotten for the leaders of the #ExxonKnew campaign and how desperate they are for attention.

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