Rep. Steve Scalise and other ExxonMobil-funded House members routinely vote against a carbon tax despite the company’s avowed support for one. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

ExxonMobil’s Support for a Carbon Tax is a Sham

, senior writer | July 31, 2018, 9:15 am EDT
Bookmark and Share

ExxonMobil executives just had another opportunity to convince skeptics that their support for a carbon tax is genuine.

They blew it.

On July 23, Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo introduced a bill that would place a $24 per ton tax on carbon emissions and dedicate 70 percent of the revenue to rebuilding U.S. infrastructure.

ExxonMobil’s reaction? “We appreciate Rep. Curbelo’s effort to help generate a constructive discussion on this important issue” was all a company spokesman was willing to say.

ExxonMobil’s reluctance to seriously engage, however, should not come as a surprise.

Yes, the company has consistently paid lip service to a carbon tax since 2009. And yes, it is a founding member of the Climate Leadership Council—which supports a $40 per ton carbon tax—and it recently endorsed Americans for Carbon Dividends, a new bipartisan lobby group promoting a carbon tax that would return revenues to taxpayers.

But more telling is the fact that the oil giant has never publicly supported a carbon tax bill and consistently funds members of Congress who oppose a carbon tax.

How does that square with the company’s avowed position?

It doesn’t.

Just say no

Curbelo’s bill is hardly the first carbon tax legislation that ExxonMobil has snubbed. When California Rep. Ted Lieu asked ExxonMobil lobbyists to support a carbon tax bill in 2015, they refused. And when Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Brian Schatz of Hawaii  introduced the “American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act” in 2016, the company would not endorse their bill or lobby on its behalf.

“Regarding ExxonMobil’s alleged seven years of support for a carbon fee, we’ve seen no meaningful evidence of that,” the senators wrote in a letter they sent to the company in August 2016. “None of the top executives that make up ExxonMobil’s management team has expressed interest in meeting with any of us to discuss the Whitehouse-Schatz proposal or any carbon fee legislation.”

Besides ExxonMobil’s unwillingness to support actual legislation, it rewards members of Congress who oppose a carbon tax by consistently funding their reelection campaigns.

The most recent example of ExxonMobil’s upside-down funding priorities was a nonbinding carbon tax resolution in the House, which stated that such a tax would be “detrimental” to the U.S. economy. The measure, which Majority Whip Steve Scalise sponsored just days before Curbelo introduced his carbon tax bill, passed by a 229 to 180 vote, and a majority of ExxonMobil-funded lawmakers lined up in favor of it. All told, 78 percent of the 174 House members who have received ExxonMobil campaign contributions since 2013 voted for the resolution.

Scalise has introduced similarly worded measures before—with similar results. In March 2013, 156 House members cosponsored his resolution stating that “a carbon tax…is not in the best interest of the United States.” Ninety-three percent of the cosponsors, including Scalise, were funded by ExxonMobil. Three years later, the House passed a Scalise resolution with the same wording as the one earlier this month. Eighty-five percent of the 237 House members who voted for the resolution received ExxonMobil funding since 2013. The day before that vote, a reporter asked an ExxonMobil spokesman for the company’s opinion. Given its supposed support for a carbon tax, surely it would encourage the House to vote no. His response? “We’re not commenting on the resolution.”

Most of ExxonMobil’s beneficiaries in the Senate also oppose a carbon tax. In March 2013, for example, Whitehouse offered a budget resolution amendment that would ensure that “all revenue from a fee on carbon pollution is returned to the American people.” That’s exactly what ExxonMobil claims to support: a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Regardless, 39 of the 48 senators on the floor that day who had received contributions from ExxonMobil between 2010 and 2014 opposed the amendment, which was defeated by a 58 to 41 vote. Two years later, the Senate voted 58 to 42 in favor of a budget resolution amendment introduced by Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt prohibiting a carbon tax. Thirty of the 40 senators who received ExxonMobil campaign contributions, including Blunt, voted in favor of the amendment.

The $130-million question

A few years ago, a top ExxonMobil official claimed that since 2009, his company had been vigorously promoting a carbon tax with federal lawmakers as the most viable way to curb carbon emissions. “ExxonMobil executives,” he wrote, “have echoed that message in countless private briefings with members of Congress on carbon tax policy options.”

Since 2009, ExxonMobil has spent nearly $130 million on its Washington lobbying operation — more than any other oil and gas company — and another $9.6 million on federal campaigns. The $130-million question: What have ExxonMobil executives been saying during those countless private briefings?

To be sure, ExxonMobil is not the only fossil fuel company plying the halls of Congress, and Koch Industries and Murray Energy are definitely not trying to sell a carbon tax to anyone, so perhaps ExxonMobil lobbyists — no matter how hard they try — are overmatched. That said, the voting record compiled by ExxonMobil-funded lawmakers, the company’s refusal to back a bona fide carbon tax bill, and the fact that it continues to finance a climate disinformation campaign all suggest that the company is deliberately misleading the public while it sabotages federal efforts to address climate change.

Photo: Gage Skidmore

Posted in: Energy, Global Warming Tags: , , ,

Support from UCS members make work like this possible. Will you join us? Help UCS advance independent science for a healthy environment and a safer world.

Show Comments


Comment Policy

UCS welcomes comments that foster civil conversation and debate. To help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion, please focus comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand, and refrain from personal attacks. Posts that are commercial, self-promotional, obscene, rude, or disruptive will be removed.

Please note that comments are open for two weeks following each blog post. UCS respects your privacy and will not display, lend, or sell your email address for any reason.

  • Bernie Mihm

    The article glosses over the distinction that there are many of us who support a transparent carbon tax as long as the money is refunded to the American people in the form of a rebate or lower FICA taxes.
    Giving the carbon tax money to politicians to dole out to their political favorites is not worthy of support in my opinion.

  • Bill

    No amount of taxation and spending can conceivably make a noticeable difference in how AGW ends, and it WILL end all on its own. Solar and batteries will make energy generation and automobiles cheaper than fossil alternatives within 10 years; once they are cheaper, nothing will be able to stop the switch over (if anyone wanted to, which is unlikely). Government spending amounts to nothing more than political grandstanding as the biggest holdup will be how quickly industry can spool up manufacturing – and we know how successful government is in picking winners in that regard.

    Let it happen. Be happy there will be no Armageddon. And for gods sake, please stop inundating us with the nonsensical Irwin Allen catastrophe stories. If ending all emissions by about 2070 isn’t enough to save us we are screwed anyway; and since tax and spend cannot possibly make more than a 0.03C difference in the final temperature between “letting it happen” and “a global Manhattan project,” please just shut up and let us enjoy what is left to us before the end of everything you imagine is coming. And no, intentional Carbon Sequestration won’t make any additional difference. Global Greening is our friend, it will start re-sequestering CO2 for free even before we end emissions (there is something like 30% more greenery now than 100 year ago, the extra 30% are free CO2 removers). You didn’t really think CO2 levels were stable for millions of years by accident, did you?

  • Tom Wiley

    A carbon tax is just another excuse for bigger government and thankfully ExxonMobil realizes this! Another tax will do nothing to change the environment.

  • Frank Sterle

    “It’s harder to rally people around a threat to humanity than one that endangers their own backyard.” I spotted this profound yet disturbing truism, albeit perhaps logically Darwinian, in an essay (titled “Crossing Lines”) in the July/August issue of The Walrus.
    It highlights the apparently prevailing penny-wise-pound-foolish widespread human mentality when it comes to the serious manmade pollution, though immediately free from our societal view, that’s toxifying our life-sustaining natural environment and worsening an already dire global warming reality.
    Perhaps it helps explain the increase in per capita automobile ownership (including SUVs) in Canada last year, compared to 2016, especially in B.C.; it’s something that UBC’s Sauder School of Business economist Werner Antweiler describes as “a disconcerting picture”, considering serious global greenhouse gas concerns. “The number of vehicles has grown faster than the number of people in the country.”
    I often wonder whether that unfortunate aspect of our general nature that permits us our tunnel vision regarding environmental degradation, will be our eventual undoing?
    Maybe due to Earth’s large size, there seems to be a general oblivious mentality as though even the largest contamination event can somehow be safely absorbed into the environment—air, sea, and land.
    For example, it’s largely believed that when released into gritty B.C. coastal waters, diluted bitumen (dilbit) will likely sink to the bottom, as with the 2010 Michigan spill in which dilbit is still being scraped off of the Kalamazoo River floor.
    I wonder, could that sinking characteristic perhaps appeal to some people who are usually apathetic towards the natural environment deep below the water surface: i.e. it will no longer be an eyesore after it sinks—i.e. out of sight, out of mind?
    It may be the same mentality that allows the immense amount of plastic waste, such as disposable straws, to eventually find its way into our life-filled oceans, where there are few, if any, caring souls to see it.
    Could it be the same mentality that, when asked by a Global news reporter (a few months back) what he thought of government restrictions on disposable plastic straws, compelled a young male Vancouverite wearing sunglasses to retort, “It’s like we’re living in a nanny state, always telling me what I can’t do.”
    Astonished by his utter shortsightedness, I recall wondering whether he was the same sort of individual who had a sufficiently grand sense of material entitlement—a.k.a. the “Don’t tell me what I can’t waste or do, dude!” attitude—to permit himself to now deliberately dump a whole box of unused straws into the Georgia Strait, just to stick it to the authorities who’d dare tell him that enough is enough with our gratuitous massive dumps of plastics into our oceans (which are of course unable to defend themselves against such guys seemingly asserting self-granted sovereignty over the natural environment), so he could figuratively middle-finger any new government rules with a closing, ‘There! How d’ya like that, pal?!”
    And, of course, the condition is allowed to fester via a mainstream news-media, being socially liberal and/or economically libertarian, that seems to not have a problem with such childish oh-well perspectives; the same narrow-mindedness that often makes me question whether we really have plausible hope in turning around our recklessness in time?
    After all, why worry about such things immediately unseen, regardless of their most immense importance, especially when there are various undesirable politicians and significant social issues over which to dispute—distractions our mainstream media seem only too willing to provide us?
    Besides, what back and brain busting, home-mortgaged labourer sustains the energy to worry about such things immediately unseen, regardless of their most immense importance?
    I see it somewhat analogous to a cafeteria lineup consisting of diversely societally represented people, all adamantly arguing over which identifiable traditionally marginalized person should be at the front and, conversely, at the back of the line; and, furthermore, to whom amongst them should go the last piece of quality pie—all the while the interstellar spaceship on which they’re all permanently confined is burning and toxifying at locations rarely investigated.
    As a species, we really can be so heavily preoccupied with our own individual admittedly overwhelming little worlds, that we’ll miss the biggest of pictures.

  • Paul Lindsey

    This bill is awful. 70% of the money goes to “infrastructure improvements”, and only 1.5% goes to improving insulation and weatherization of existing structures. This bill is a tax on the low and middle class. The price of everything will increase, because the cost of manufacturing will increase. The only way a carbon tax should be structured is if the majority of the money is returned to the taxpayers as refundable tax credits. This bill is a gift to the construction trades, just like California’s SB1 is. Where is the incentive for owners and landlords to retrofit existing structures with more efficient insulation, doors, windows and HVAC? As usual, the people renting homes & apartments are screwed, because their landlords have no incentive to make improvements.

    • Elliott Negin

      The main point of my piece is that ExxonMobil has done absolutely nothing to promote any carbon tax bill despite the company’s avowed support for one. Rep. Curbelo’s bill may not be ideal, but note that he said he introduced his bill to “spark an important debate about investing in our country’s infrastructure, the way we tax, and what to do to protect the environment.” It is a starting point, and he’s a Republican. If his colleagues were serious about passing some kind of a carbon tax bill (and the ones funded by ExxonMobil are not), they would use Curbelo’s bill to hold hearings and then amend it. The other carbon tax bills proposed in recent years, including Whitehouse and Schatz’s revenue-neutral bill that would give its proceeds back to taxpayers, have been introduced by Democrats and have gone nowhere. Curbelo deserves credit for trying to enlist support from his own party.