Exxon’s Tillerson Calls for Carbon Tax – Seriously?

Exxon's Rex Tillerson: Serious about global warming or just stalling?With the Senate releasing their version of climate and energy legislation last week, renewed lobbying efforts from some quarters touting the benefits of more CO2 emissions, and our good friend Senator James Inhofe now saying that CO2 isn’t a “real” pollutant in his ongoing effort to mislead and misinform, I’m not really sure what to make of Exxon chief Rex Tillerson’s recent remarks on climate legislation.

Exxon has been continually linked to funding climate change denial lobby groups, but of course none of that was mentioned when Tillerson gave a speech last week at the Economic Club of Washington D.C. Tillerson talked of the importance of the energy sector, the economic challenges it faces, and how effective policy-making can help bring about the changes needed for the energy economy in a new century.

For Tillerson, the answer to climate change legislation isn’t cap-and-trade, the primary tool in both the House and Senate version, but a carbon tax.

“Refundable greenhouse gas emissions fee”

Tillerson has been on the record in his preference for a carbon tax – setting a price on tonnage of carbon emitted that doesn’t require companies to reduce but gives them a financial incentive to do so – for some time This time around Tillerson “gets into Washington’s spirit of euphemisms” as reported last Friday on the Wall Street Journal blog:

“I know it’s hard for a politician to say,” he quipped, “so we have to give it a new name. We call it a ‘refundable greenhouse gas emissions fee.'”

It’s hard to tell if Tillerson is serious, or if he’s just trying to prevent any climate legislation from passing at all.

Green Energy Reporter notes that Tillerson must be fully aware that a carbon tax would appear in Congress “dead on arrival,” for several reasons. Not the least of which is that Congress is so far down the road with cap-and-trade it is highly unlikely it would change course now.

Nonetheless, Tillerson has one unlikely ally in his preference for a carbon tax (a.k.a. refundable greenhouse gas emissions fee) – James Hansen. The good company notwithstanding, few see a carbon tax as either possible or desirable, as argued by Joe Romm in his blog Climate Progress.

Reasonable arguments

Tillerson knows the arguments against a carbon tax (let’s just call it that, shall we?), taking dead aim in his speech at the idea it doesn’t stand a chance in Congress:

Now, some people have suggested that a revenue-neutral carbon tax has no chance of gaining sufficient support in Congress to become law. They say a carbon tax is too politically sensitive and that it is easier and more politically expedient to support a cap-and-trade approach, because the public will never figure out where it is hitting them. They will just know they hurt somewhere in their pocketbook.
I disagree with this assessment. I believe the American people want climate policy to be transparent, honest, and effective. Economists generally agree that achieving a given emissions target costs less under a tax or fee approach than under a cap-and-trade system. I firmly believe it is not too late for Congress to consider a carbon tax as the better policy approach for addressing the risks of climate change. Indeed, there has never been a more opportune time for Congress to pursue this course of action.

He further argues that a cap-and-trade scheme brings with it too much government intervention, price volatility, and has the government “picking winners and losers.”

So is Tillerson truly concerned about the proper course government and industry should take in dealing with climate change, or is it a “reasonable sounding” ploy to avoid dealing with it at all? I’m sure I don’t know. There’s all that money Exxon spends to cast the whole notion of climate change into doubt (or at least humanity’s role in it).

Still, hearing the CEO of Exxon talk about climate legislation at all seems like a step in the right direction.

Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of GlobalWarmingisReal.com and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications.