CEI Sues To Force Release of Carbon Tax Emails

WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 13, 2012 – On Tuesday, the Competitive Enterprise Institute filed suit to force the Treasury Department to release more than 7,300 emails believed to discuss a new “carbon tax” Obama administration allies in Congress are expected to propose in the upcoming lame duck session.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., seeks emails on official government accounts that CEI had requested under the Freedom of Information Act. Treasury has said nothing about this topic publicly, but the existence of such extensive email traffic likely reflects serious ongoing discussions between Treasury officials, outside pressure groups and other special interest groups.

CEI requested emails that included the word “carbon” from the agency charged with setting up cap-and-trade or a carbon tax. “It’s possible this office, whose sole purpose was to manage a cap-and-trade or carbon tax program was despairing, in thousands of emails, why people no longer use carbon paper,” said Christopher Horner, an attorney, senior fellow at CEI and author of the recent book, “The Liberal War on Transparency.” “Otherwise, it seems we have an enormous history over the past year of discussions with lobbyists, pressure groups, contributors and maybe even Republicans about how to impose this massive new energy tax.”

The administration has refused to issue the fee waivers routinely provided to non-profits and to which CEI was entitled because the agency did not respond to the request in a timely fashion. It cited the cost of photocopying 7,000-plus emails and claimed disclosure “would not significantly inform the public about operations or activities of government.”

“At first, Treasury illegally delayed responding to CEI for several months,” Horner said “Now, it refused to issue a waiver of fees even though courts have been clear these fees were designed for non-profit watchdog groups. It claims this would place an outrageous cost burden on the agency. It would cost the agency the cost of one CD disc and the time it would take to download the emails to the disc.”

Press reports and leaked documents have linked the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank in Washington, to an effort to rebrand the tax as a “conservative” idea to increase its political appeal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has indicated he may propose it in the lame duck session. And over Veterans Day weekend, both the New York Times and Washington Post came out in support of such a tax. In CEI’s view, Treasury’s coordination of these events may well be outlined in the withheld emails.

CEI became aware of this campaign earlier this fall, when it learned Fenton Communications, the left-leaning public relations firm which has long led the charge for “global warming” policies, was escorting proponents of a carbon tax to conservative gatherings around Washington in an attempt to demonstrate this could be sold to Congress and the public as a conservative idea.

Acting on this information, CEI filed its Freedom of Information Act request with Treasury on Aug. 8.

Enactment of some levy on energy consumption has been a policy goal of environmental groups for at least two decades, since Al Gore’s politically disastrous attempt to push a BTU Tax in 1993. In 2010, with both houses of Congress in Democratic hands, President Obama pushed for cap-and-trade legislation. When that failed because of intense public opposition, he vowed to return, saying there are “other ways to skin the cat.” This, presumably, is one of those other ways.

“Although President Obama repeatedly promised openness and transparency in government, even liberal watchdogs have despaired that his has become one of the most secretive administrations ever,” said Horner. “This administration has attempted to conceal its involvement in this proposal not just until the elections were over but beyond, to the point where disclosure will come too late to meaningfully inform the public. This shameful lack of transparency must stop, beginning with the administration coming clean about its effort to impose a massive, harmful new energy tax.”

>> You can read CEI’s November 13 complaint below; or you can view and download a PDF version of the complaint here.