Maine lawmakers split this week on a U.S. House vote to condemn the idea of a carbon tax to fight climate change, though no serious effort has been made to impose it — and there’s no chance the Republican-controlled Congress or President Donald Trump would approve.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a two-term GOP lawmaker from Maine’s 2nd District, joined colleagues Thursday to approve a resolution that insisted a carbon tax “would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States.”
A near-party-line vote backed the proposal, 229-180, with six GOP members opposing it and seven Democrats favoring it. Poliquin was the only representative from New England to back the resolution, which Democratic 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree opposed.
Poliquin issued a news release that called a carbon tax “an extreme policy that would be devastating to Maine and America’s economy” while simultaneously calling himself “a strong supporter of efforts to protect Maine’s environment.”
What appears to have spurred the House to take action was news that a Republican legislator from Florida, Carlos Curbelo, plans next week to introduce a bill that would raise $700 billion for infrastructure related to climate change by imposing new taxes on coal and natural-gas emissions. It would also repeal the federal gasoline tax and offer rebates to low-income Americans.
Curbelo told The Miami Herald, “This is not about punishing consumers or punishing producers, it’s about making sure that we can hand off a clean, healthy planet to future generations while being sensitive to economic realities.”
Speaking in defense of the anti-tax resolution, which he introduced to counter a carbon tax, Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, said the measure would “send a clear signal to the American people that we oppose policies that would drive up energy prices for families and for businesses.”
He said that “a stand-alone carbon tax generally would have such detrimental effects on the economy and would be an unwarranted and transparent grab for revenue” that would impose its biggest burden “on the most vulnerable: the young, the poor, the elderly, and those living on fixed incomes.”
Poliquin said much the same.
“Our senior citizens, our veterans, and Maine families cannot afford an increase in home heating costs tied to a carbon tax,” Poliquin said in his prepared statement.
But Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., dismissed the entire exercise as “really meaningless.”
On the House floor, Neal told colleagues, “If you want to debate a carbon tax, let’s hold some hearings. Let’s hold some discussions about a carbon tax. Let’s find out what it would mean for the economy.”
He said members “might use that moment to test what offshore drilling does for oil as part of the carbon-tax discussion or for the families in western Massachusetts,” he said. “Let’s find out what impact it would have on fossil fuel emissions and economic growth. Let’s think strategically about how it might affect our geopolitics.
“If you want to have this debate, then let’s have a real debate through hearings” in the normal course of legislative business, Neal said.
“The likelihood of a carbon tax in our future will not be changed by this silly resolution,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said on the House floor.
“But as Republicans continue to reject all ways, any ways, of addressing the climate change national security challenge, the future of our planet and our families remains endangered every bit as much as they endanger us by yielding to Vladimir Putin,” Doggett said.
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., said, though, that from a national security perspective, it’s important that the country maintain an ability to supply fuel to allies across the globe.
“We want to be the world leader in oil and gas exports, and a carbon tax will prohibit us from being able to do that,” Shimkus told colleagues.
He also pointed out that a variety of groups, from the Farm Bureau to FreedomWorks, call a carbon tax “the wrong way to go because it increases costs on everybody, from the goods that we sell ’til we transport them to the market, across the board.”
U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.V., said a carbon tax “might reduce the amount of energy produced from coal and natural gas,” but it would also “raise the cost of everything else Americans consume: gasoline, diesel fuel, food, clothing and supplies. All would become more expensive.”
Poliquin’s opposition to a carbon tax is nothing new.
In a 2016 campaign debate, he denounced the idea as one that would “drive up the price of energy,” especially electricity, and “kill manufacturing jobs.”
Tiffany Bond, an independent challenger to Poliquin, took to Twitter to question Poliquin’s vote on this week’s resolution.
The Portland attorney called the two-term incumbent’s stance “a bit of a cop-out” because the nation “needs to have comprehensive options” to deal with climate change that may include a carbon tax, “which isn’t particularly extreme or novel.”
Bond said that doing something such as banning cars would be extreme, while a carbon tax is simply a policy consideration to examine.
“Economists have said repeatedly that a carbon tax is the most market-friendly way to fight climate change,’ said Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va.
The concept of a carbon tax is to make users of fossil fuels pay for the climate damage their fuel use causes when it releases heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Scientists have raised alarms that unless humanity curbs its use of fossil fuels, the planet will become significantly hotter, ocean levels will rise, storms will become more frequent and many environmental problems will worsen.
How much of an effect a carbon tax would have on energy bills is impossible to say because there’s no particular plan under consideration. But Republicans are taking aim at the idea because it has the potential to increase costs.
Shawn Moody, Maine GOP’s gubernatorial candidate, recently said he thinks a carbon tax “would dramatically increase home heating bills for Mainers, if enacted here.”
Moody and Poliquin may be right, depending on how exactly a carbon tax is structured.
As the Congressional Budget Office noted in 2013, a tax would help the environment but, its impact on the economy “would depend on how the revenues from the tax were used.”
A University of Maine philosophy professor, Michael Howard, has been among those arguing that a dividend plan that returned revenue to Americans would counter any increased cost to families.
Whether a carbon tax is a good idea or a bad one, the House vote made it clear that lawmakers don’t plan to look into it.
Marchant said a carbon tax would hurt the economy just as it is beginning to recover from the last recession, when people are starting to see “a brighter economic future.”
“We should not debate putting new obstacles in front of them at this time.” Marchant said.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., denounces a carbon-tax idea during a debate on the House floor Thursday. (C-Span)
This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (NASA)