As fossil fuel companies continue lobbying against climate legislation, funding anti-climate politicians, bringing home sky-high profits from oil and gas sales, and doubling down on business models anchored on fossil fuel extraction and consumption, public participation in a “climate leadership council” appears to be an asset that corporations can deploy to perform the role of problem-solver while justifying their opposition to other laws and regulations.
“There is a part of me that sees this as, ‘We can hold industry accountable a little bit without having to be in a place of discomfort, [without] holding them accountable in the way that climate change, environmental injustice, requires,” said Dana Johnson, the senior director of strategy and federal policy at We Act for Environmental Justice. “I think it gives people the opportunity to say that they’ve done something … It’s safe.”
Titled “The conservative case for carbon dividends”, the original CLC report called for a steadily rising carbon tax that “might begin at $40 a ton”, with the proceeds returned to Americans in checks estimated to start around $2,000 a year for a family of four. The plan also featured a tariff on imports from countries without carbon pricing to discourage commerce from moving abroad and to give “lower-emitting US manufacturers … a competitive advantage”, said Greg Bertelsen, the group’s CEO, in a statement emailed to the Guardian.
The final plank of the CLC’s original plan was the repeal of not just federal emissions regulations but the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate carbon emissions at all. And buried in that section was another line that would be easy to miss: that a carbon tax “would also make possible an end to federal and state tort liability for emitters”. This otherwise innocuous sentence captured what Richard Wiles, the head of the non-profit Center for Climate Integrity, called the oil and gas industry’s “number one thing”: legal immunity for companies’ contributions to global warming and to the damages of climate change, and for their decades-long campaigns to deceive the public and obstruct legislative action.