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Vitter: Carbon Tax Discussions Should Be Done Openly

There’s a lot of talk in Washington about raising taxes, including by finding “revenues” in creative ways, to avoid driving off the fiscal cliff.

But there’s one tax that is purposefully not being discussed openly — a carbon tax. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that the Obama administration and their allies aren’t actively working toward this goal. There is a lot of evidence that there’s a lot of discussion toward this ultimate end, including within the Treasury Department.

That’s why I was deeply concerned to learn that Treasury is actively fighting a Freedom of Information Act request for disclosure on the subject. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative public policy organization, has specifically requested the disclosure of emails regarding carbon regulation and carbon tax issues from and to the Office of Environment and Energy within Treasury.

Significantly, that office was created within Treasury in 2008, apparently in anticipation of Congress passing some type of cap and trade or carbon tax regime. Thankfully, that never happened. But the office continues to plow the field in those areas.

Treasury actually acknowledges that office sent or received at least 7,300 emails this year alone discussing “carbon.” But it is stonewalling the release of those emails. One particularly insulting way it is doing that is by demanding that the institute, the nonprofit requesting the documents, pay an exorbitant sum for photocopy expenses — even though all the material is in electronic form and can be easily transmitted electronically for free. In addition, Treasury is outright refusing to provide its economic analysis of a carbon tax.

Treasury’s stated position for withholding these public records is that disclosure of extensive discussion of “carbon” by this particular office, including with special interest groups, would not significantly inform the public about operations or activities of government. Oh really? One would reason that any plan to tax carbon would inevitably be a major new tax on the public. That makes the whole matter very relevant and significant by definition.

Treasury’s Office of Environment and Energy, by the way, is part of Treasury’s broader Office of International Affairs, which entered into talks this week in Doha, Qatar, centering on its 2009 promise to contribute to a $100 billion annual fund from certain developed countries to poorer nations in the name of global warming. It’s a good bet that these funds would be used to achieve what U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres claims will lead to a “centralized transformation” that is “going to make the life of everyone on the planet very different.”

This is apparently designed, as Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change official Ottmar Edenhofer recently admitted, “to redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy.” These radical quotes go a long way in explaining why Treasury is working so hard to avoid disclosure of actions that might further this agenda.

Another key reason is that Treasury knows who a carbon tax would hurt the most — the lower-income, often-single-parent homes suffering most in our weak economy. Earlier this month, the Congressional Budget Office released a study that noted at the outset that a carbon tax would “impose a larger burden, relative to income, on low-income households than on high-income households.”

I believe Congress must assert its constitutional responsibility in this important matter. If President Barack Obama and his administration are considering a carbon tax, a revised cap and trade plan, or anything similar, then they must work through Congress to achieve it. We cannot allow them to legislate by administrative fiat, withhold information and circumvent the law.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., will be ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and a member of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee in the 113th Congress.

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