Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. withdrew his support of a GOP climate bill after encountering major blowback from conservative groups, per two people familiar with the matter.
Earlier this week, Politico reported that Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Wicker introduced a bill that would impose a fee on carbon-intensive imports from nations with higher emissions than the US. It’s essentially aimed at increasing the price of products like steel, cement, and natural gas when they’re made less cleanly by rivals like China, otherwise known as a carbon-border adjustment. The fee is unspecified.
“American manufacturers should not be put at a strategic disadvantage because of our world-leading efforts to improve our manufacturing processes,” Wicker said in a statement at the time.
Some conservative groups were stunned at Wicker’s support of a carbon border tariff, with one of the sources calling it “bizarre,” and his office fielded criticism that the legislation would ultimately increase prices on Americans and contradict the GOP’s messaging on inflation.
Wicker confirmed he’s no longer onboard. “I was interested in an earlier version, there was some confusion there, but I’m not cosponsoring the bill,” Wicker told Semafor.
“The senator had expressed interest in an earlier form of the proposal to protect American manufacturers, but decided upon further review of the final text that he could not ultimately cosponsor the legislation,” Wicker’s office said in a statement to Semafor.
In an interview, Cassidy said the legislation had undergone significant changes since Wicker had initially expressed support for the concept, adding he’d drafted the bill to “avoid unintended consequences.”
“You can say everything’s a slippery slope, there’s almost no policy we do that cannot be interpreted that way,” Cassidy told Semafor.
Conservatives generally oppose a carbon border adjustment mechanism, arguing it paves the way for a domestic carbon tax that jacks up consumer prices. But the China competition angle has given it a fresh look in GOP circles, especially after Donald Trump imposed an array of tariffs on Beijing during his presidency. Trump’s former U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer has expressed interest in the idea, including in testimony to the House Select Committee on China earlier this year.
In order to try and differentiate his approach from other carbon pricing mechanisms, Caassidy introduced a resolution panning a domestic carbon tax, which President Obama tried pursuing a decade ago only to encounter a brick wall of conservative opposition.
“I think you can actually very easily set up a distinction between a domestic carbon tax and a foreign pollution fee,” Cassidy said. “And if not, you’re choosing not to make that distinction as opposed to understanding the distinction can be made.”