On Wednesday, the conservative American Enterprise Institute hosted a secret meeting with other Washington, D.C., think tank officials, including members from several prominent liberal ones, to discuss how to build political support for a carbon pollution tax.
The discussion even apparently raised the subject of trying to get the upcoming post-election “lame duck” Congress to address the issue.
Representatives from such liberal groups as Union of Concerned Scientists, Public Citizen, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Brookings Institute, the Climate Action Network and Clean, Air-Cool Planet joined centrist groups such as the Concord Coalition, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and conservatives scholars from AEI and R Street, a group that broke away from the Heartland Institute.
The 5-hour meeting was titled “Price Carbon Campaign/ Lame Duck Initiative.” The first session on the agenda was titled “Congressional Republicans, Romney and Business Leaders: Detoxifying climate policy for conservatives.” This was followed by discussions titled “Progressive/Social Justice Groups,” and “Economists and deficit hawks.”
The second session was titled “Framing and selling a carbon pollution tax.” It included discussions “Building bipartisan support and navigating Ways & Means” and “Honing the case for a carbon pollution tax.”
The event was not publicly announced, and all participants reached by the Washington Examiner declined to discuss it on the record in any detail, saying it was a private event.
A copy of the agenda was obtained Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a staunch critic of carbon taxes. He sent it out on an email list to friends and colleagues.
“We must kill this incredibly harmful idea as quickly as possible” Ebell wrote.
He told The Washington Examiner that the agenda was proof that AEI was engaged in a “conspiracy” to help enact a carbon tax. Ebell said he was given a copy of the agenda by a trusted source.
Kevin Hassett, AEI’s director of economic policy studies and Tom Stokes, head of the Climate Crisis Coalition, were the reported organizers of the event. Most participants referred all questions to Stokes, who at presstime has not responded to the Examiner.
Hassett is prominent free-market economist and regular contributor to National Review. He served as policy guru to both the George W. Bush and John McCain presidential campaigns.
Hassett issued the following statement in response to a press inquiry:
In recent years, AEI has been accused of being both in the pocket of energy companies and organizing to advocate a carbon tax. Neither is true. AEI has been, and will continue to be, an intellectually curious place, where products aren’t influenced by interested parties, and ideas from all are welcome in seeking solutions for difficult public policy problems.
The same statement was sent to Reason magazine reporter Ron Bailey.
Hassett has spoken in favor of the idea previously though. In a Bloomberg column from January, 2011 posted on AEI’s website he wrote: “As I’ve written before, if Congress wants to encourage innovation in energy, it should tax carbon, not subsidize politically favored approaches such as ethanol.”
The environmental news service Greenwire quoted Hassett as saying he:
found the meeting useful because it enabled people with different viewpoints to share information.
“I’ve found the aspect of ‘What do we know about this; what do we know about that?’ to be very productive,” Hassett said.
Others contacted by The Washington Examiner similarly tried to downplay the importance of the meeting, saying it was simply an effort to exchange ideas and that think tanks regularly have such off-the-record gatherings.
One described it as a private strategy meeting though and pointed to the agenda when asked about the meeting’s purpose. That and the extent to which they tried to keep the meeting off the radar suggest more that just an intellectual discussion.
A reproduction of the agenda with annotations by Ebell describing the affiliations of the participants follows:
Price Carbon Campaign / Lame Duck Initiative:
A Carbon Pollution Tax in Fiscal and Tax Reform
Meeting V, Wednesday, July 11, 2012
American Enterprise Institute, 1150 17th Street, N.W.
12:45 – Lunch
1:30 – Background and orientation
1) Welcome from AEI (Kevin Hassett [Director of Economic Policy Studies, AEI])
2) Brief introductions from participants
3) Overview of agenda and facilitation format (Alden Meyer [D.C. Office Director and Director of strategy and policy, Union of Concerned Scientist; long-time leading environmentalist who previously served as executive director of the League of Conservation Voters and Environmental Action])
4) Background and context for meeting (Tom Stokes [Head of the Climate Crisis Coalition Coordinator Pricing Carbon Campaign])
Session I: Update on posture of key constituencies
1:45 – Congressional Republicans, Romney and Business Leaders
Detoxifying climate policy for conservatives.
Discussants: Kevin Hassett [Director of Economic Policy Studies, AEI], Dave Jenkins [Vice President of Government and Political Affairs at Conserv America, formerly known as Republicans for Environmental Protection], Eli Lehrer [President of the R Street Institute and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute; former Senior Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Vice President at the Heartland Institute; and former staffer to Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist], Bill Newman [Legislative Consultant to Clean Air, Cool Planet]
2:15 – Progressive/Social justice groups
Discussants: Danielle Deane [Director of Energy and Environment Program, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies], Tyson Slocum [Director of Energy Program, Public Citizen], Chad Stone [Chief Economist, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
2:45 – Economists and deficit hawks
Discussants: Autumn Hannah [Senior Program Director, Taxpayers for Common Sense], Aparna Mathur [resident scholar, AEI], Diane Lim Rogers [chief economist, Concord Coalition], Rob Shapiro [ex- U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs under President Bill Clinton; currently Chairman of Sonecon and Senior Fellow at the Georgetown University School of Business; also advisor to the International Monetary Fund and chairman of the U.S. Climate Task Force]
3:15 – Break
Session II: Framing and selling a carbon pollution tax
3:30 – Initial thoughts on a post-election public opinion and education campaign
Discussant: Kevin Curtis [Program Director of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project; Board of Directors, Climate Action Network]
4:00 – Building bipartisan support and navigating Ways & Means
Discussant: Tom Downey [prominent DC lobbyist; former Member of Congress—D-NY—1975-1993; married Carol Browner in 2007]
4:30 – Honing the case for a carbon pollution tax
Ian Parry [Technical Assistance Advisor in the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department]: IMF book on carbon tax in fiscal context
Rob Williams [Senior Fellow and Director, Academic Programs, Resources for the Future]: RFF FAQ
Adele Morris [Policy Director for the Climate and Energy Economics Project, Brookings Institution]: November 13th AEI/Brooking/IMF event & July 12th RFF discussion
5:00 – Next steps and Wrap-up
5:15 – 6:00: Gather for informal conversation and light refreshments