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Bipartisan bills push carbon tax, as GOP pollster offers Democrats help on climate

Frank Luntz pledged to help Democrats with their climate messaging

Republican pollster Frank Luntz, pledged to help Democrats address climate change in a nonpartisan, dispassionate way. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Republican pollster Frank Luntz, pledged to help Democrats address climate change in a nonpartisan, dispassionate way. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Climate change policy may be in for a softer, less polarized atmosphere with Republicans and Democrats teaming up on a flotilla of legislation to tax carbon emissions and decarbonize American industries, and a longtime Republican spin guru pledging to help Democrats with their climate messaging.

For instance, in the Senate, Democrats Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Cory Booker of New Jersey joined with Republicans Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Mike Braun of Indiana on Thursday to introduce a bill targeting emissions from the industrial sector.

It would establish a federal advisory board to fund methods to make heavy industries like shipping and steel-making less carbon intensive. The lead sponsors in the House are Democrats Sean Casten of Illinois and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas and two Republicans, Rep. David B. McKinley of West Virginia and Del. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen of American Samoa.

Reps. Francis Rooney, a Florida Republican, and Daniel Lipinski, an Illinois Democrat, filed a bill Thursday that would lower taxes in exchange for setting a carbon price. They promised another, to be called the “Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act,” but its text was not available and it was not described in detail.

Democratic Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware and Dianne Feinstein of California also filed a carbon tax bill Thursday; California Democrat Jimmy Panetta said he would offer the House version.

Another bipartisan group of lawmakers said they’d introduce Senate and House legislation that would cut emissions from hard-to-reach sources such as ships, planes and the cement, chemical and steel industries. And Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is tinkering with his own carbon tax bill, but isn’t expected to introduce it until after the August recess.

The flurry of legislation comes as Democratic and independent voters, as well as young voters from both parties, are pressing lawmakers to address climate change as the planet endures a summer of record-breaking heat and this Congress has yet to take up a bipartisan climate bill.

“My overall goal is to develop … legislation that can pass the Senate,” Coons told reporters. He said his bill would levy a $15-per-ton fee on emissions, raise that price over time and split the revenue between low- and middle-income taxpayers, energy research and transition assistance for fossil energy-centric communities.

Coons said he hopes the bill triggers “a more substantive conversation” about moving states and regions away from fossil fuel reliance and how to fund that shift.

[Democrats want to require Pentagon to study climate change risks on military bases]

Luntz pivots

Shortly after Coons floated his bill, a climate-focused cadre of Senate Democrats heard remarks from Frank Luntz, the GOP pollster, who pledged to help them address climate change in a nonpartisan, dispassionate way.

“Americans believe climate change is real, and that number goes up every single month,” Luntz told Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz. “They believe that it is man-made, and that number increases every month.”

He added, “Support for a carbon tax is significant, but it melts away if it is shown to have little to no impact on climate change itself.”

In 2003, as a GOP consultant, Luntz wrote a memo describing an opportunity to challenge the science of climate change.

“The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science,” he wrote in that 2003 memo, obtained by the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy outfit.

“Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community,” the memo read. “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly.”

[Democrats appear stymied on a top priority: climate legislation]

In his remarks Thursday, Luntz seemed to acknowledge his role in muddling climate science.

“And I’ve looked at this question now and the language that I use today is different from the language I used 18 years ago,” he said. “That was a lifetime ago,” he continued. “I have changed.”

Luntz told Schatz he would be happy to help him on climate policy. “If we keep this nonpartisan, you can have everything,” he told the Hawaii Democrat.

At the same meeting, Kiera O’Brien, the vice president of Students for Carbon Dividends, which supports taxing emissions and sending the revenue back to the public, said financial markets will be critical to curbing emissions.

“The plan we support does not harm free enterprise,” she said. “Capitalism will be essential for tackling this challenge.”

She also said both major political parties will have to make sacrifices to pass robust climate legislation: “Concessions will have to be made on both sides.”


Under Coons’ bill, families making less than $150,000 annually would get rebate checks from the tax revenue, staffers said.

The Rooney-Lipinski legislation would tax emissions at a rate of $40 per ton on coal, petroleum, natural gas and fluorinated gas where they are extracted or produced.

If it had been in place this fiscal year, the tax would have raised about $160 billion that would have been offset by lower taxes, according to people familiar with the language.

The bill Fitzpatrick is working on would be similar to a bill former Florida GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo introduced in the 115th Congress, according to people familiar with the matter and House staffers. That measure would have levied taxes on heat-trapping emissions and sent the revenue to low-income citizens and highway projects.

Whitehouse’s bill would establish a federal advisory board to help devise methods to make heavy industries like shipping and steel-making less carbon intensive.

Industrial sources in the U.S. account for about 30 percent of the country’s emissions.

“Manufacturers have always been about solutions,” Rachel Jones, senior director of energy and resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, which supports the Whitehouse bill, said in a statement. “This bill takes a clear-eyed look at the unique challenges that different energy-intensive industries face as we all work toward ensuring a safer and more prosperous future.”

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Coons noted that the private sector is already planning for a carbon price.

“For those of us who have coastal communities, that are predominantly second-home communities and where insurance is a real issue, we’re beginning to hear some alarming things about the possibility of a market collapse because of increased hurricane activity,” the Delaware senator said.

Still, President Donald Trump represents a massive hurdle, he said. “As long as our president continues to insist that climate change is a Chinese hoax and as long as he is sort of the most forceful voice in the Republican party, that creates a headwind.”

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