Sheldon Whitehouse says carbon pricing is ‘highly likely’ for Democratic spending package

Washington Examiner
October 6, 2021
By Josh Siegel

A new fee on carbon emissions is “highly likely” to be included in Democrats’ climate and social spending package and the Biden administration is coming around to understand the “serious mistake” they made in not touting carbon pricing as part of its Build Back Better Agenda.

Those are the words of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, perhaps the biggest carbon pricing proponent in Congress, who spoke to me for the inaugural episode of a new podcast I am releasing this afternoon with my co-host, former FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee.

In the podcast, called Plugged In , Neil and I talk to policymakers, CEOs, and activists across the ideological spectrum about the most pressing energy and environmental issues.

Our first guest is Whitehouse, a climate hawk who is central to reconciliation negotiations in the Senate as a member of the Finance and Environment and Public Works Committees with jurisdiction over key energy and environment policies.

In a nearly half-hour conversation last week, Whitehouse spoke about his advocacy efforts to convince the Biden administration to support Democrats’ including a carbon tax in their sprawling reconciliation package.

“There has been conventional wisdom about this that has been wrong and people who weren’t close to the Senate didn’t understand what was going on, and that included some folks in the White House even,” Whitehouse told us of carbon pricing doubters.

To ensure a carbon price doesn’t violate President Joe Biden‘s pledge to not raise taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year, Whitehouse said he’s pitched the administration on exempting gasoline from the tax.

He presented administration officials a study from Resources for the Future showing emissions reductions for a carbon tax with and without an exemption for gasoline are relatively similar (basically because people would be unlikely anyway to stop driving their gasoline-powered vehicles or switch to EVs just because of a slight increase in gas prices caused by a carbon tax).

“It turns out by taking unleaded gas out you lose very little on the emissions side and may gain a great deal of public acceptance,” Whitehouse told me in a separate follow-up interview after we stopped recording.

Whitehouse said Democrats should strive to pass the most robust climate policies possible, including carbon pricing, before the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow starting Oct. 31 for Biden to have credibility.

The U.S. would look like “jerks and putzes” if it fails to pass climate legislation, he said.

To hear more from Whitehouse, listen to the debut episode of Plugged In, which will drop later this afternoon and can be downloaded here .