Conservative Group Targets WV Democrat For Supporting Carbon Tax — Even Though He Didn’t

CREDIT: AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana

Nick Rahall

CREDIT: AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana

A conservative group is targeting Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) with a new ad campaign aimed to tar him as a supporter of a carbon tax, National Journal reports.

The American Energy Alliance is a Koch-funded group that regularly pushes anti-renewable energy and pro-fossil fuel talking points. The hope with the new ad is to drive a wedge between Rahall and his district in West Virginia, given the state’s heavy reliance on the coal industry for jobs. Rahall is a 35-year veteran of Congress, and also happens to be one of six other red state Democrats the National Republican Congressional Committee has explicitly singled out for ousting in the 2014 election cycle.

For his part, Rahall denies he was ever a supporter of a carbon tax. The ad campaign’s case rests on Rahall’s vote this past spring for the House Progressive Caucus’ budget. That budget included a carbon tax of $25 per ton of carbon emissions, and would have rebated 25 percent of all the revenue it generated back to low-income families. According to the Congressional Budget Office and other economists, that sort of rebate system is one of the best ways to maximize a carbon tax’s effectiveness at cutting greenhouse gases while minimizing any damage to the economy or to economically vulnerable Americans.

However, Rahall says the version of the Progressive Budget he voted for didn’t say anything about a carbon tax. “I read the amendment, and nowhere is a carbon tax stated,” he told E&E News this summer.

According to E&E News, what’s most likely going on here is that Rahall voted for the budget resolution for the Progress Caucus’ plan. Budget resolutions simply specify funding levels without laying out specific policies for getting to that funding. The supporting documents for the budget certainly laid out a carbon tax as one of the intended policies, but the language of the bill Rahall voted for technically didn’t include it. Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget for the House GOP functioned the same way — votes for the resolution simply set the targets, and it was up to lawmakers to fill in the policy gaps Ryan specified in his supporting documents with further votes down the line.

To back up his claim, Rahall can point to a bill he introduced a few weeks after the Progressive Budget vote, which would have specifically barred the Treasury Department from levying a carbon tax. He also voted against the 2009 cap-and-trade bill.

The irony here is that no policy is arguably more well-suited to cutting carbon emissions in a market-friendly manner than a carbon tax. It applies a universal price incentive against emitting carbon, but doesn’t specify how those cuts should be made. As a result, a carbon tax leaves every actor in the economy — from individuals to small businesses to major firms and power plants — free to find the most cost-effective way to reduce their emissions to whatever point they feel they can afford in light of the tax’s costs.

A cap-and-trade system actually functions in a similar manner, which is why the 1990 sulfur dioxide regulations — which were based on cap-and-trade — didn’t result in major price spikes for electricity or any noticeable economic damage.

For all those reasons, a carbon tax actually enjoys broad support from voters, major industrial interests, politicians on both sides of the aisle, and from economists across the political spectrum.