Oil companies, corporate giants, and several prominent individuals – from Stephen Hawking to Michael Bloomberg – announced Tuesday they are joining the Climate Leadership Council, a group proposing a plan to tax carbon emissions from fossil fuels.
A group of Republican elder statesmen introduced the plan in February 2017. They called it a “conservative climate solution” that would tackle global warming by taxing greenhouse-gas emissions and returning the money to American taxpayers.
The coalition argues that, by raising the price of energy that comes from fossil fuels, the free market will naturally gravitate toward renewable energy solutions.
Under the plan, the US government would tax oil companies $40 per ton of CO2 they produce, which would add about 36 cents to the cost of each gallon of gasoline at the pump. Some of that money, which the council calls “climate dividends,” would then go to Americans in monthly installments through the Social Security Administration.
The plan’s supporters include ExxonMobil, BP, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, PepsiCo, and Procter & Gamble. Individual backers include physicist Stephen Hawking, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Laurene Powell Jobs (the widow of Steve Jobs), and Stephen Chu, a secretary of energy under Obama.
While it may seem unexpected that oil companies would support such a plan, they would reap some financial benefits if it comes to fruition. In addition to instituting the carbon tax, the plan would roll back some Obama-era environmental regulations and protect oil companies from lawsuits over greenhouse-gas emissions.
For those reasons, some environmentalists are skeptical of the plan. Greenpeace called it a way for oil companies to skirt lawsuits over their contribution to climate change. ExxonMobil, for example, is under investigation to determine whether the company lied to the public or investors about climate change risks.
“ExxonMobil will try to dress this up as climate activism, but its key agenda is protecting executives from legal accountability for climate pollution and fraud. Buried in pages of supposedly ‘free market’ solutions is a new regulation exempting polluters from facing legal consequences for their role in fueling climate change,” Greenpeace’s Climate Liability Project Lead, Naomi Ages, said in a press release.
You can watch Climate Leadership Council CEO Ted Halstead’s TED talk about the group’s carbon tax approach below: