Exxon Mobil to spend $1 million lobbying for a carbon tax

Exxon Mobil, the largest oil company in the U.S., is putting $1 million toward a lobbying campaign to back a carbon tax, throwing dollars into a political fight that has had Washington lawmakers at an impasse.

Exxon has previously said it supports a carbon tax, as have competitors BP and Royal Dutch Shell, but this marks the first time an oil company in the U.S. has put money behind its pro-climate words, according to reports.

The funds will go to Americans for Carbon Dividends, a group formed this summer to lobby for a carbon tax plan that was originally developed by eminent Republicans James Baker III and George Shultz. The utility Exelon, solar company FirstSolar and the American Wind Energy Association have also donated to the group.

The Exxon announcement comes amid a week of climate-change news. On Monday, two Americans shared the Nobel prize in economics for their works explaining the economics of climate change and technological innovation. And a United Nations science panel warned of "life-or-death" consequences if the world does not eliminate fossil-fuel technologies in the next decade. 

The support of the oil industry is vital to the success of any climate legislation in Washington, experts note, because of Republican lawmakers' longstanding opposition to any carbon taxes. The Republican-controlled Congress has downplayed previous alarms about global warming, while President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris agreement on climate change last year.

This summer, a Republican congressman from Florida introduced a carbon tax proposal the same month that House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning carbon taxes as harmful to the economy. There are signs the political ground could shift, however.

Exxon has long come under criticism for its contribution to carbon emissions and its role in past campaigns to deny or cover up climate science. But in recent years, and as other developed nations slowly shift their carbon policies, oil companies have come around. Support for a carbon tax would also protect the oil giants from lawsuits that blame them for climate change, the Associated Press noted.

Exxon's commitment of $1 million is equivalent to the revenue it makes every two minutes, Bloomberg reported

An Exxon spokesman told the news outlet, "we've been supportive of a revenue-neutral price on carbon for a decade" -- meaning a tax that does not actually raise government revenues. "Applying a uniform cost across the economy is consistent with our principles on how to manage the risk of climate change," the spokesman added.

Meanwhile, some environmental advocates are calling for Exxon—and U.S. regulators—to go even further.

"The frightening U.N. climate change report that just came out makes it clear that we need to eliminate fossil fuel usage as quickly as possible, or risk irreparable harm to the planet and everything on it," Tony Dutzik, associate director and senior policy analyst at the Frontier Group, told MoneyWatch in an email. "While a carbon tax is better than no mitigation effort at all, we need to do much more to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels to clean, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy."  

--The Associated Press contributed to this report.