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Carbon Tax Conference in Houston: Some Critical Questions

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- February 7, 2019

The [Houston] conference excitedly states that “momentum for a national carbon dividend is growing.” In fact there is momentum against a carbon tax to enable a “dividend.” As Justin Gillis wrote in the New York Times : “Efforts to sell Republicans on the idea that [a CO2 price] is the most market-friendly approach to the emissions problem have failed miserably, and will continue to fail.”

This Saturday at the University of Houston, a conference will be held on carbon taxes.  Titled Texas Energy & Carbon Pricing: Ready to Lead, the event’s main organizer is Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), which (in its own words)

is working with Congress in a non-partisan way to advocate for a market-based climate solution that will allow consumers and businesses alike, including those with oil/gas interests here in Texas, to use the market to identify the most cost-effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The conference’s pitch is as follows:

The first bipartisan carbon pricing legislation in nearly a decade was introduced in 2018. Carbon pricing has been advocated by Texan energy industry leaders, Republican politicians, and various business interests.

Join this high-horsepower panel for a discussion on why momentum for a national carbon dividend policy is growing:

  • Nick Schulz, ExxonMobil, Director of Stakeholder Relations

  • Dave Berry, ConnectGen CFO; fmr Clean Line Energy, CFO

  • Pat Wood III, SunPower, Lead Independent Director; Public Utilities Commission of Texas, fmr Chairman; Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, fmr Chairman; Dynegy, fmr Chairman

  • Pam Giblin (moderator), Climate Leadership Council, Senior Policy Advisor; Baker Botts, Partner

CItizens’ Climate Lobby is holding conferences around the country trying to get students and other volunteers involved. Calling carbon dioxide a “pollutant,” CCL is lobbying for a H.R. 763, the “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.” They state:

For over a decade, our volunteers have asked their Members of Congress to work together to solve climate change. A viable climate change solution needs to be big and lasting — which means bipartisan legislation. We fully support the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. This policy will drive down America’s carbon pollution while unleashing American technology innovation and ingenuity. We support it because it’s:

Rather amazingly, the bill and pitch is for “revenue neutrality:”

The fees collected on carbon emissions will be allocated to all Americans to spend any way they choose. The government will not keep any of the fees collected….

The money collected from the carbon fee is allocated in equal shares every month to the American people to spend as they see fit. Program costs are paid from the fees collected. The government does not keep any of the money from the carbon fee.

Hiding Something?

The conference excitedly states that “momentum for a national carbon dividend is growing.” In fact there is momentum against a carbon tax to enable a “dividend.” As Justin Gillis wrote in the New York Times : “Efforts to sell Republicans on the idea that [a CO2 price] is the most market-friendly approach to the emissions problem have failed miserably, and will continue to fail.”

It is a both party loser, Democrats included. As Gillis explains in “Forget the Carbon Tax for Now“:

The violent demonstrations that flared this fall in France … were triggered by plans to impose a tax hike on gasoline and diesel fuel at the pump in the name of fighting climate change. Only three years ago, French monuments were bathed in green floodlights to celebrate a global deal negotiated in a Paris suburb to limit emissions; now we are scraping ugly slogans off those monuments.

Days before the French fury boiled over in November, voters in one of most liberal American states, Washington, once again rejected a plan to tax emissions of carbon dioxide in the name of fighting climate change….

[The] climate movement has, I fear, turned this potentially useful tool [of carbon pricing] into a fetish. Discuss any aspect of the emissions problem these days and you will quickly hear somebody say, “A price is the answer,” or equivalent words.

Yet the put-a-price-on-it mantra is proving, in practice, to be a political failure. The Democrats could not get such a policy through Congress even when they had big majorities in the first two years of the Obama administration.

Four Critical Questions

We should all assume that the sponsors and participants of this conference want transparency and bottom-line information to best inform the citizenry and voters. So, here are some key questions that should be addressed by the speakers and if not, asked from the audience.

  1. (TRUTH IN ADVERTISING #1) In regards to “pricing” carbon dioxide and other man-made greenhouse gas emissions, why not use the word “tax” instead of “fee”? It is well known that CO2 pricing (government rationing) is a direct or indirect tax on users of oil, natural gas, and coal.
  2. (TRUTH IN ADVERTISING #2) What is the tax being proposed ($/metric ton), and what are the price effects on gasoline, diesel, heating oil, propane, and natural gas using the RFF carbon-tax calculator? What is the tax’s effect on the price on electricity as well?
  3. (TRUTH IN ADVERTISING #3) Regarding the “fee and dividend” (really tax-and-dividend) proposal, when is the government’s check in the mail? Will it be a dollar-for-dollar rebate per person (which raises the question: why do it all)?
  4. (TRUTH IN ADVERTISING #4) What is the effect the proposed US carbon tax on global temperature and sea-level rise in 2050 or 2100? What is the “return” for the “investment,” in other words?


With the answers to the above questions, all participants in this conference should ask: would my money, time, and effort be better spent on another cause, say a traditional welfare issue such as nutrition, health care, or literacy?

Check your premises, beginning with the physical science of climate change (not discussed here). [1] There is an opportunity cost to everything we do, and the cost of “saving” the climate could be negative, not positive.


[1] The critical student can best begin by following Judith Curry at Climate Etc. Her latest entry is Climate Hypochondria and Tribalism vs. ‘Winning”.

One Comment for “Carbon Tax Conference in Houston: Some Critical Questions”

  1. Ed Reid  

    As a child, I believed in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and even the Great Pumpkin. However, as a not-yet-shovel-ready senior, I can not bring myself to believe in a revenue-neutral fee/tax. I am not willing to believe that the US Congress is capable of allowing so much money to flow freely through its greedy and insatiable fingers.

    The answer to question one is “intuitively obvious to the casual observer”.

    Regarding Question 2 above, the tax/fee would be increased as necessary to achieve the desired result. The start point is less significant than the rate of increase and the endpoint. The approach is similar to placing a frog in temperate water and then turning up the heat.
    I am reminded of the old saw: “Firings will continue until morale improves.”

    Regarding Question 3 above, the “Why do it at all? is income and wealth redistribution. Then, one must ask whether the definition of “person” is limited to citizens, or includes legal residents or illegal residents.

    Regarding Question 4 above, any answer would rely on unverified climate models which are currently being falsified by Mother Nature. There are numerous estimates of the effect, but they are merely estimates.


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