On Wednesday, former senators Trent Lott (R-MS) and John Breaux (D-LA) announced, with a big public relations blitz, a new campaign, Americans for Carbon Dividends, to address the threat of climate change. The effort is being heralded as a breakthrough by some because it is endorsed by big oil and gas companies Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, and Total, and it calls for a $40-a-ton carbon tax, incurred at the source of emissions, with revenues to be returned to citizens as dividends, perhaps $2000 a year for each American family of four.
A Lott-Breaux op-ed in the New York Times presents the deal as a compelling bipartisan solution and touts the support not only of oil companies but also the non-profit Nature Conservancy. The campaign website lists a bunch of newspaper and environmental group endorsements for the underlying $40 carbon tax concept, which was proposed last year under the banner of a group called the Climate Leadership Council, launched by Republican former secretaries of state James Baker and George Shultz and other conservatives, and now including oil companies and various establishment Democrats and Republicans.
The website of the new, affiliated Americans for Carbon Dividends shows its own campaign leadership roster that includes not only Republican Lott and Democrat Breaux, but also former George W. Bush adviser Karen Hughes and Mark McKinnon, plus Bill Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart.
So it sounds like Democrats and Republicans alike, and even some environmental groups, are supportive, the oil companies are at last willing to pay for their dangerous carbon emissions, citizens will get a dividend, and everyone will be happy.
But when one examines the fine print of the deal — and the financial benefits flowing to some of the people touting it — the effort looks much less utopian.
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