Late last year, 12 East Coast states were heralded as climate heroes for proposing a new Transportation and Climate Initiative, supposedly a groundbreaking new approach to stop catastrophic climate change.
In reality, it’s nothing more than a poorly disguised gas tax that will have literally no environmental benefit. And it’s a bad idea at any time but especially now, as the country struggles to recover from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
TCI will needlessly force higher costs of living on New England residents. Gas is one of the least elastic expenses for consumers. While frugal budgeters can scrimp and save in other areas, even groceries and utility bills, there’s no getting around the fact that people need to get to work. (Although the percentage of employees working remotely may remain higher than previous levels after the virus subsides, this flexibility doesn’t work in every industry.) Because of this, claims that this tax will reduce miles driven are dubious.
And costs would rise by more than just the price of the new tax. TCI has been projected to cost gasoline distributors $7 billion, which will inevitably be passed on to drivers. TCI’s own data admits that consumers could expect gas price increases of at least 17 cents per gallon on top of the tax — a considerable cost for families struggling to make ends meet.
The government too often treats tax dollars heedlessly, as if the revenue magically appears in its coffers and can be boosted on a whim. But taxation has consequences for real men and women outside the political bubble, especially when it involves such heavy-handed mandates as a gas tax.
And what would be the result of all that expense extracted from families in the region? Absolutely zero.
TCI advocates project that levying this new tax would result in at most a 5% reduction in participating states’ emissions. Using the same climate data models embraced by the United Nations and other global groups to back claims about catastrophic climate change, models that have historically overestimated warming, we calculated the real-world impact of TCI on global temperatures, if all states fully implemented it, by 2032. The results were too small even to register — temperatures would be less than one-thousandth of a degree cooler.
In fact, even the entire country eliminating all fossil fuels would result in less than two-tenths of a degree difference.
A program that would have a real, measurable impact on our environment might be worth considering. But this new tax would have no effect. Residents of those 12 states should be appalled that their state governments would force a new tax on them based on a clear lie.
Ultimately, regardless of your opinion on raising taxes or climate change programs, the reality is that COVID-19 is an immediate threat to humanity, whereas climate change is not. As the respected political scientist and economist Bjorn Lomborg has noted, global climate-related deaths have declined by 98.9% in the last century. Humanity is growing more and more resilient thanks to the availability of affordable, reliable energy. The best science suggests our climate will remain mild and manageable as technology and resiliency continue to improve.
Meanwhile, at the time of this writing, more than 70,000 people in the United States have lost their lives — right here and now. Many more are at risk, and more still are facing financial devastation, as tens of millions of jobless claims have been filed since the pandemic began. Our elected leaders should prioritize changes that will actually benefit their constituents, such as cutting the payroll tax, overhauling the FDA, and other measures outlined in the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Recovery Agenda.
New Hampshire saw the light and dropped out of the agreement long before the coronavirus struck. But unfortunately, the TCI tax is still alive and kicking.
Rises in taxes that carry no environmental benefit are bad in themselves but are especially egregious now. This is no time for political games. Our elected leaders should oppose any proposals that increase the financial burdens on families struggling to get back on their feet and focus instead on stopping COVID-19.
This commentary originally appeared in the Washington Examiner on July 7, 2020.