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Exxon Pushes Carbon Tax Plan That Some Say Could Worsen Global Warming

Exxon Mobil announced this week that it's donating $1 million to a campaign to pass a carbon tax.
Martin do Nascimento
Exxon Mobil announced this week that it's donating $1 million to a campaign to pass a carbon tax.

Texas-based oil giant Exxon Mobil got some good press this week when it announced it was donating $1 million to a campaign to enact a carbon tax in the U.S. But many worry the tax proposal would not slow emissions quickly enough and could harm the environment through its legislative giveaways to the oil and gas industry. 

Under the proposal, the Baker-Schultz Plan, companies would pay a tax on carbon dioxide they put in the atmosphere, starting at $40 a ton and increasing gradually. That money would go into a fund that compensates consumers for the higher cost of fossil fuels brought by the tax.

In theory, the plan would reduce use of fossil fuels by making them more expensive. But Scott Edwards, with the nonprofit Food and Water Watch, is skeptical. 

“If it’s costing me $20 more a week to put gas in my tank, and I’m getting a check at the end of the month for 100 bucks," he says, "then why not just keep putting gas in my tank?"

He and others worrythe plan could increase public dependence on fossil fuels as consumers get used to receiving those carbon “dividend” checks.

The Baker-Schultz Plan would relieve oil and gas companies of legal liability for their contributions to global warming. It would also roll back EPA regulation of Co2, tying policymakers' hands if they want further carbon reductions. Those reductions would be necessary if governments want to achieve the climate goals laid out by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

A recent report by the panel says the world will need to transform everything from its energy sector to its transportation infrastructure by 2030 to avoid catastrophic climate change. 

Edwards, whose groupjoined others in opposing the proposal when it was released, says he doesn't think it would work under ideal circumstances, but certainly not in that time frame. 

It would take at least 10 years to see if the plan would, he says, and "of course by then … it’s too late." 

His group supports direct government regulation of Co2 emissions instead of a carbon tax. 

"That's what's worked to clean up pollution," Edwards says. "We seem to be ignoring that when it comes to greenhouse gasses."

Copyright 2018 KUT 90.5

Mose Buchele is the Austin-based broadcast reporter for KUT's NPR partnership StateImpact Texas . He has been on staff at KUT 90.5 since 2009, covering local and state issues. Mose has also worked as a blogger on politics and an education reporter at his hometown paper in Western Massachusetts. He holds masters degrees in Latin American Studies and Journalism from UT Austin.