ExxonMobil is lobbying for a carbon tax credit in Washington, which would support its natural gas division and could deflect investigations into its climate change scandal.
Calling for the federal government to enact a revenue-neutral tax on carbon would encourage carbon producers like oil companies and power plants to shift to energy sources that emit less carbon. Carbon taxes would make coal more expensive, raising electricity rates and driving demand for cleaner energy.
Fueling power plants with natural gas instead of coal would produce less carbon, and it would be ideal for ExxonMobil. Since acquiring natural gas producers like XTO Energy in 2009, ExxonMobil has become the largest producer of natural gas in the U.S.
Supporting carbon taxes could also be part of ExxonMobil’s efforts to close the books on the “big oil” company knowing about the dangers of climate change from burning fossil fuels decades ago, and conspiring to keep that information from the public. ExxonMobil has been accused of knowing about the dangers of climate change and investing in research, lobbying, and advertising denying it will happen.
The oil giant has sued the attorney general of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, in an effort to force her office to shut down the state’s investigation. ExxonMobil is arguing that the investigation violates the company’s constitutional right to free speech.
There’s also pressure being placed on the oil industry since the COP21 climate change agreements made last December in Paris. Along with that agreement, ExxonMobil faces the divestment movement that calls upon major investors and pension fund managers to sell their holdings in fossil fuel companies.
About six months ago, ExxonMobil changed its position on carbon taxes from neutral to supportive. The oil company has been asserting its position more in meetings within trade associations, including the American Petroleum Institute and American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, according to multiple reports from people who have attended meetings with Exxon officials.
“Of the policy options being considered by governments, we believe a revenue-neutral carbon tax is the best,” Suzanne McCarron, the company’s vice president of public and government affairs, wrote in May in the Dallas Morning News.
Some advocates of strong climate policy like Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) are skeptical on whether ExxonMobil’s shift signals a deeper change. He introduced a bill to enact a carbon tax last year but it has gone nowhere without needed support.
His staff recently met with ExxonMobil lobbyists, but the senator said, “The meeting was more just an exploratory feeler to see about further conversations.”