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Aggregating Energy Since 2006

Gas tax vs. CAFE standards: Which best curbs global warming?

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The Union of Concerned Scientists embarked on an action campaign today. UCS asked members to join them in sending our represenatives in Congress gas receipts accompanied by letters demanding better fuel economy.

This reminded me of an article I came across recently that argued fuel efficiency standards like CAFE are economically costly and not very effective in fighting global warming or increasing energy security. Rather, a gas tax is a far more effective and less expensive way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption. There are a few reasons for this:

1. A tax kicks in full force on a chosen date rather than over the time period it takes for a fleet turnover.
2. A gas tax applies to all consumers of gasoline while CAFE standards apply exclusively to those in the newer car market.
3. A gas tax increases the marginal cost of each mile driven and thus reduces miles driven. CAFE standards encourage additional driving since the marginal cost of each additional mile decreases with better fuel efficiency.

So, why don't we increase the federal gas tax from 18.4 cents per gallon to a dollar per gallon? Or $2 per gallon? The short answer is politics. It has historically been considered political suicide to talk about significantly raising the federal gas tax. (Remember the Bush/Cheney ad:
"Some people have wacky ideas. Like taxing gasoline more so people drive less. That’s John Kerry. He supported a 50 cent a gallon gas tax. If Kerry’s tax increase were law, the average family would pay $657 more a year.”)

So I think I'll send in my fuel receipt after all, but instead of a plea for higher CAFE standards, I'll write a permission slip that goes something like this:

"Please make me pay at the pump. I want to FEEL it every time I leave the station--it should be me that loses the equivalent weight in gold when I blow through a gallon of gasoline, not my kids or grandkids or my neighbors in China. You can have my 6 or 7 hundred bucks a year. I won't miss it really. But if the Northern forest goes, my children would miss that. And if Shanghai floods, that would be tragic. Give us constituents some credit...if a gas tax is what it will take to turn this thing around, we can handle it!"