Fact Check: Does Hagan want a carbon tax?
An industry-funded nonprofit says U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan favors imposing a "carbon tax" on fuel sources like gas and coal. But the group doesn't have a carbon-emitting gun to back up their claim.Posted — Updated
"We all know politicians don't always tell the truth," begins a commercial from the American Energy Alliance that has been airing in North Carolina.
But this being an attack ad, rather than sticking with a statement of the obvious, it goes on to criticize U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan for supporting a carbon tax.
"Hagan's campaign claims she opposes a carbon tax, but she's on record supporting it, worked to make it a priority, even though it could cost the average family more than $2,000 a year, increase gas prices and destroy thousands of North Carolina jobs," the ad says.
Soon after that ad began airing, campaign staffers for state House Speaker Thom Tillis, who is the Republican running against Hagan this year, took up the same accusation.
"Hagan's sudden claim that she has never supported a carbon tax is just another attempt to mislead voters by playing both sides of an issue," said Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin.
The $230,000 ad buy is due to end its two-week run in North Carolina on Wednesday. For her part, a spokeswoman for Hagan denies she supports such a tax, and the Hagan campaign issued a lengthy review of the ad disputing many of its points.
What exactly is a carbon tax? Does Hagan support one?
Burning less fossil fuel, the logic goes, would help curb global climate change.
"Our goal is to educate people about the damages of a carbon tax and to hold Senator Hagan accountable for supporting a policy that would be extremely painful for North Carolina families – especially the poor, elderly and those on fixed incomes," Chris Warren, a spokesman for the alliance, said in an email.
The alliance's claims hinge on two key pieces of information.
"(W)e believe the scale of this challenge dictates the need for a comprehensive solution that includes making polluters pay through a price on greenhouse gas emissions," said part of the letter the alliance highlights.
Warren argues, "The 'price' Hagan called for is a tax that would destroy jobs and cause energy bills to skyrocket."
The words "carbon tax" do not appear in the letter, and it's unclear what policy the senators are suggesting. As PolitiFact wrote in a February review of an ad in Alaska's Senate race, "A carbon tax could be one way to levy 'a price on greenhouse gas emissions.' Another way, though, would be through a cap-and-trade program."
While it is certainly true that someone who hoped to defeat a carbon tax under any circumstance might like to see that procedural rule pass, it's equally true that it was not a vote on the tax itself.
"When Hagan had the chance to join a bipartisan effort to block a carbon tax from ever being implemented, she instead sided with her liberal, special-interest allies," Keylin said of the 2013 amendment vote.
It is fair to point out that when she ran for office in 2008, Hagan verbally support a bill that would institute a "cap and trade" system under which industry would have carbon emissions limited and be able to trade in credits companies earn for reducing such emissions. However, there does not appear to have been a vote on cap-and-trade since Hagan has been serving.
Those reports make assumptions about what a carbon tax would do and the costs it would impose. Since Hagan has not signed on to any particular bill or indicated her support for a specific set of carbon tax criteria, the ad is ascribing specific impacts based on assumptions about what the senator's position might be.
"There's a number of ideas that Kay supports, including a Clean Energy Standard similar to the one she supported in North Carolina that has already helped reduce pollution," Hagan spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said in an email. "She has introduced legislation to encourage the development of lithium for batteries that would be used in things like electric cars and other smart-grid technologies. She supported extension of an advanced manufacturing tax credit that included incentive for clean energy manufacturing – an area where North Carolina is well-positioned to grow jobs. And she successfully fought to save a military advanced biofuels program from elimination."
Keylin said Tillis "would never support a carbon tax, cap and trade or any other energy tax that would destroy jobs and hurt our economy. Congress' focus needs to be on getting our economy back on track, not tanking it with new taxes and regulations."
However, on the merits of this particular carbon tax ad, it is a stretch to say Hagan "worked to make it a priority," since the work in question was a letter that didn't specifically mention carbon taxes at all. While there have been votes that have skirted the carbon tax issue since she's been in office, none of those put her squarely on the record for or against such a measure.
The ad also uses some numbers about the economic impact of a carbon tax policy. Using those numbers gives viewers the impression that the alliance is analyzing a particular bill that Hagan has voted for or supported. Since there is no such bill, that is not the case and the use of those numbers is somewhat misleading.
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