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Koch brothers push GOP officials to sign anti-climate pledge

Charles and David Koch
Charles and David KochGetty Images

The Republican Party is certainly fond of its pledges. Grover Norquist, of course, has his infamous anti-tax pledge that has interfered with federal policymaking in recent decades, and in 2011, GOP presidential candidates were pushed to endorse an anti-gay pledge from the National Organization for Marriage.

But as it turns out, there's another pledge that's taken root in Republican politics that's received far less attention. The New Yorker's Jane Mayer reports this week on the "No Climate Tax Pledge" pushed by Charles and David Koch.

Starting in 2008, a year after the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency could regulate greenhouse gasses as a form of pollution, accelerating possible Congressional action on climate change, the Koch-funded nonprofit group, Americans for Prosperity, devised the "No Climate Tax" pledge. It has been, according to the study, a component of a remarkably successful campaign to prevent lawmakers from addressing climate change. Two successive efforts to control greenhouse-gas emissions by implementing cap-and-trade energy bills died in the Senate, the latter of which was specifically targeted by A.F.P.'s pledge.

By now, [411] current office holders nationwide have signed the pledge. Signatories include the entire Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, a third of the members of the House of Representatives as a whole, and a quarter of U.S. senators.

The pledge, uncovered as part of a two-year study by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, forces policymakers to oppose any legislation relating to climate change unless it is accompanied by an equivalent amount of tax cuts." [Updated: see below]

And what, pray tell, do tax cuts have to do with the climate crisis and effects of global warming? Nothing in particular, but the Koch brothers hope to make it impossible to pass any bills related to carbon emissions, and by demanding tax cuts, they're effectively eliminating any credible policy options -- as Mayer explained, "Since most solutions to the problem of greenhouse-gas emissions require costs to the polluters and the public, the pledge essentially commits those who sign to it to vote against nearly any meaningful bill regarding global warning, and acts as yet another roadblock to action."

When President Obama unveiled his fairly ambitious new climate agenda last week, some hoped it would spur broader action in Washington. There's still room for a comprehensive climate policy that may be more effective than the administration using the Clean Air Act to limit emissions, but it would require Congress to work towards a sensible, consensus remedy. Republicans don't like the White House policy? Fine, it's time policymakers sat down with environmentalists and industries to work on an alternative.

Of course, Congress can't do much of anything with a radicalized House majority, and climate legislation appears completely out of the question -- the Koch brothers have a pledge to ensure failure, no matter the consequences.

This is why we can't have nice things.

* Update: The exact language of the pledge reads as follows: "I, ______________________, pledge to the taxpayers of the state of _______________ and to the American people that I will oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue." The Koch-financed opponents of combating the climate crisis see this as different from Mayer's description, though it's worth emphasizing that since any meaningful policy would generate revenue, the pledge would effectively call for tax cuts to guarantee revenue neutrality. As for why far-right anti-climate activists would oppose new government revenue -- which could ostensibly be applied to deficit reduction, which conservatives occasionally pretend to care about -- your guess is as good as mine.