Today, U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter to Jack Lew, Secretary of the Department of Treasury (Treasury), regarding the Department's decision to release only 3% of emails related to a possible tax on carbon emissions, requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

"Other countries are running from similar policies, the most recent example being Australia's rejection of a carbon tax in their last election. That's because a carbon tax is clearly a failed idea that could significantly ruin any chance for the United States to have a full economic recovery," said Vitter. "The Administration should pay attention to other countries and learn from their mistakes. The Treasury has been blatantly rejecting transparency, which is especially disappointing because they are in charge of our nation's financial future. While the Administration denies they are planning a carbon tax, the EPA moves forward with the functional equivalent in new regulations."

In 2012, Vitter asked then-Secretary Timothy Geithner for answers on his department's involvement in proposing a "carbon tax." In response to a FOIA request by several non-governmental groups for documents containing the term "carbon," Treasury originally identified 13,000 relevant documents. To date, Treasury has released 329 of those documents. In their January 2013 response to Vitter, Treasury cited its FOIA backlog and little else. Click here for more information.

Following the failure for the controversial "Cap-and-Trade" legislation in 2009, Democrats earlier this year proposed legislation that would specifically authorize the Treasury to impose a carbon tax. This legislation would establish a tax of $20 per ton on carbon slowly rising over a ten year period and according to CBO estimates, would generate $1.3 trillion dollars. The impact similar policy had on Australia can be found here.

Text of the letter is below. Click here for the PDF version.


September 13, 2013

The Honorable Jack Lew
U.S. Department of Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C 20220

Dear Secretary Lew:

As you are aware, President Obama recently tasked his Administration to pursue bureaucratic avenues to obstruct our nation's energy independence, which has since been described by his own party as "irresponsible" and a "war on jobs" and "war on America".[1] In a June 2013 speech at Georgetown University, the President made clear his intention to use all of his Administration's authorities to execute this regressive agenda. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plays the lead role in the Administration - issuing a stream of regulations that increase the cost of electricity generated from coal and issuing other directives that effectively increase the price Americans pay for energy, and act similar to a carbon tax.[2] In addition, this Administration has mobilized the Department of Interior[3], the Department of Defense[4], the Securities and Exchange Commission[5], and numerous others to participate in this effort.

While the White House has publically stated that the President is not seeking to impose a carbon tax[6], Congressional leaders, such as Senators Boxer and Sanders, have recently proposed legislation that would specifically authorize the Treasury to impose a tax on carbon.[7] This legislation would establish a tax of $20 per ton on carbon slowly rising over a ten year period and according to CBO estimates, would generate $1.3 trillion dollars. This follows the highly controversial 2009 Cap and Trade legislation when both House and Senate leaders unsuccessfully attempted to pass another form of carbon tax legislation.[8] A tax on carbon has a major impact on a nation's economy and rarely meets the perceived goals, as seen in Australia's recent experiment with the imposition of a carbon tax, which proved to be devastating to their economy.[9]

As Secretary of the Treasury, it is your responsibility to inform and advise the President on matters of economic significance to our nation. In light of the President's war on carbon and the active debate surrounding it, I find it inconceivable that you and others in your Department have had minimal discussions on the highly controversial topic of a carbon tax and the impact it would have on the American economy. It is for this very reason I wrote to then Secretary Geithner in November 2012 expressing my deep concerns for the Treasury Department's reluctance to be transparent with regard to thousands of emails it identified that could relate to a carbon tax.[10] It is my understanding that several non-governmental groups have also contacted Treasury requesting transparency on this front. These groups include the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and the Washington Examiner. To date, Treasury has released a meager 329 documents, although the agency had originally identified 13,000 documents that contained the term "carbon."[11] Treasury is now claiming that the remainder of these documents is not responsive to the request.[12] I am skeptical that Treasury possesses so few documents, including emails, that refer or relate to a carbon tax in light of the attention such a tax has garnered in public debate both at home and abroad.

Accordingly, I request that you provide the Committee with all Treasury documents that refer or relate to a carbon tax, including, but not limited to all of the 7,300[13] emails Treasury has already identified as being responsive. As these documents were identified over a year ago, it is my expectation that these documents should be turned over without processing delays and no later than September 20, 2013. In addition, I request that Treasury identify and provide the Committee any additional documents that refer or relate to a carbon tax that have been generated after November 2012 through the present, along with a full response to my original request letter. If you have any questions regarding compliance with this request, please contact the Environment and Public Works Committee at 202-224-5176. Thank you for your prompt attention to this important issue.


David Vitter
Ranking Member