By Kennedy Maize

Washington, D.C., July 14, 2012 — A group of mainstream conservatives and representatives from Washington environmental groups have been meeting over recent weeks to revive the idea of a U.S. carbon tax as a way to combat alleged man-made global warming. The aim is to have a package of proposed laws to bring up when Congress meets in a “lame-duck” session following November’s national election.

Lobbyists from the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the Washington office of the Union of Concerned Scientists have been spearheading the attempt at a policy agreement during a series of secret meetings dating back to late last year, the most recent, fifth, of which took place last Wednesday, July 11, at the AEI offices. The title of the meeting, according to a copy of its agenda, was “Price Carbon Campaign/Lame Duck Initiative: A Carbon Pollution Tax in Fiscal and Tax Reform.”


As word of the left-right meetings on a carbon tax consensus leaked out, a backlash among anti-tax Republican activists and global warming skeptics flared. Also, some environmentalists expressed dismay that they might be seen as collaborating with their historic conservative enemies. One environmental activist told me, on condition of anonymity, that publicity could doom what may be the last chance to get a national policy on climate change enacted in Congress in the next several years.

At the same time, former Republican congressman Bob Inglis has formed an organization to promote carbon taxes from a conservative perspective. With funding from The Rockefeller Family Fund and the Energy Foundation, both traditionally funders of liberal groups, Inglis has formed the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University. His group bills itself as promoting “energy and climate by embracing solutions that are true to conservative principles.” Inglis lost a 2010 GOP primary race to a tea party activist, primarily because he took what conservatives in his district viewed as heretical notions about global warming, according to an analysis in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at AEI, and Alden Meyer, the director of the UCS Washington office (the group’s headquarters is in Cambridge, Mass.), have been leading the series of climate policy consensus meetings. According to the agenda for last Wednesday’s meeting, supplied by Myron Ebell of the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), in addition to Hassett and Meyer, participants included Tom Stokes of the Climate Crisis Coalition, Dave Jenkins of Republicans for Environmental Protection, Eli Lehrer of the climate skeptic Heartland Institute, Bill Newman of Clean Air, Cool Planet.

Asked for comment by a reporter for The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress, Stokes declined, describing the event as a “private meeting.”

Also on the agenda, among others: Danielle Deane of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen, Autumn Hannah of Taxpayers for Common Sense, Kevin Curtis of the Climate Action Network, and Tom Downey, former Democratic member of the House from New York and a prominent Washington lobbyist for liberal causes.

CEI’s Marlo Lewis, in a blog posting, blasted the attempt to create what he called a “carbon tax cabal.” He argued that “the only defensible reason for ‘conservative’ economists to discuss carbon taxes is a TOTAL replacement for ALL EPA greenhouse gas regulations. But that ‘progressives’ would agree to any such swap is unimaginable. So what really is there to talk about?”

Former GOP congressman Bob Inglis appears to believe there is plenty to talk about, although he’s looking beyond this year’s lame duck session. He told Grist, an online, left-wing magazine, “We think it’s 2015, 2016 before anything happens. After the next midterm. Either a new Republican president will, under market pressure, say to the country that we need a grand bargain to bring down rates and broaden the base, and a great way to do that is to shift off of taxing income and toward taxing CO2. Or it’s a second term for President Obama and the same market pressure pushing Congress and the president to do something. Perhaps some of the rejectionism of Obama will be declining because he’s a lame duck, just like the Clinton hatred subsided some as he moved toward the end of his second term.”

Ronald Bailey, writing in the libertarian online magazine Reason, had another suggestion for the next left-right meeting on climate legislation. He wrote that “perhaps one additional item might be included on a future AEI agenda: Is Government Action Worse than Climate Change?