Group details carbon dividend, limited liability plan

Source: Benjamin Hulac and Hannah Northey, E&E News reporters • Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2018

Former Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.) announced an effort today to address climate change, which they compared to past national crises, such as world war and economic collapse.

As leaders of Americans for Carbon Dividends, a group created yesterday, they announced their support for a $40-per-ton carbon tax, charged at the source of emissions, that would return the revenue generated to U.S. citizens through dividend checks.

“Carbon needs to be controlled,” Lott said on a phone call with reporters. “I’m convinced that this is something that would be positive for this country,” he said, underscoring the importance of the cash payouts. “It’s a carbon dividend, and that’s the key.”

The new group is an offshoot of the Climate Leadership Council, which unveiled this $40 carbon tax plan a year ago.

Support has risen in recent years in the private sector and among conservative leaders that climate change is a severe risk and that addressing it through a tax that returns the revenue to voters is a pragmatic and effective way to curb rising greenhouse gas levels.

Lott and Breaux made that point in an opinion piece in The New York Times today, highlighting a poll that found 73 percent of Americans believe climate change is occurring and 75 percent are concerned about its potential effect on future generations.

The public relations firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies conducted the online survey of 2,000 likely voters June 4-10.

But beyond political opposition from industry groups, there are at least two sticking points for the CLC plan, which oil majors Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell PLC, BP PLC and Total SA support.

Passing any price on carbon soon is unlikely, as Breaux acknowledged. “We’re not trying to do it soon,” he said. “This is an educational process that we are embarking upon.”

Then there is the matter of climate change damages.

Lawsuits from plaintiffs who argue fossil fuel companies have wronged them by exacerbating the physical damage of climate change — such as drought and sea-level rise — have picked up in recent years. Cities in California, Washington, Colorado and New York have active lawsuits against oil and gas extraction companies.

The CLC plan would insulate companies against such cases through what is known as a “liability shield.” “Robust carbon taxes would also make possible an end to federal and state tort liability for emitters,” the plan reads.

If a president signed such a document, he or she would likely be protecting companies that have for generations sold products that warmed the planet (Climatewire, June 22, 2017).

In an email, a CLC official confirmed the liability provision is still included. “Part of the CLC plan does include limited liability protections with specific details to be developed in the future,” Wynn Tucker said.

“Climate change is one of the great challenges of our generation,” Lott and Breaux wrote in the Times. “America has always come together at moments of crisis or opportunity,” they explained, likening climate change to global conflict and economic depression. “America must marshal its political will to lead on climate as well.”

Ted Halst