Tag Archives: Carbon Tax

Mid-Morning Musings

• Do read Robert in Monterey’s report about Abel Maldonado, Don Perata’s best buddy, running as a write-in candidate in the Democratic primary to stall an attempt to get an opponent on the November ballot.  First of all, this is an example of why crossfiling should be banned once and for all.  Second, Abel Maldonado is a snake and I can now see why Don Perata would knock on doors for him.  Apparently, neither of them have much interest in the democratic process.

• Arnold thinks the legalization of gender-neutral marriage will be a boost to the sluggish economy, but I hope he’s not basing his entire budget on a sharp uptick in gay weddings.  I mean, there are only so many Mr. Sulus rich enough to have that surge register more than a blip.  By the way, good for Mr. Sulu.  And good for Ellen DeGeneres for telling Straight Talk Express where to shove it.

• Speaking of John W. McCain, he’s in California today.  Nobody show him the PPIC numbers!

• Lucas mentioned this, but Darrell Issa got in the middle of a heated exchange between Henry Waxman and EPA Adminstrator Stephen Johnson over the EPA’s breaking the Clean Air Act.  Emptywheel has video:

• Why Fabian Nuñez is claiming racial bias at this late date over questions about his travel practices is completely beyond me.  And he’s taken to Spanish-language television for these accusations to stoke divisiveness in the Latino community, too.  It’s so counterproductive, as well as misleading.

• Speaking of Spanish-speaking media, this is an older story, but it’s fascinating to me that the Spanish-language channels in LA are so much more substantive than the English-language ones, featuring longer, “more deeply reported” pieces.

• We could see a settlement very shortly on prison overcrowding in the state which would not require early release.  There are some decent components to this deal, but it basically gives everyone three more years to clean up their act, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it just puts us in the same siutation come 2011.  The policies needed are well-known; the political will remains elusive.

• The Bay Area AQMD passed a carbon tax for businesses that emit greenhouse gases.  It’s “not enough to change behavior,” one expert said, but it does presage what may be coming down the pike for polluters.  Whether you get there through selling carbon permits at auction or with a tax, the bottom line is that pollution is going to cost enough money to alter business’ approach to engaging in it.  This is a good step.

• Interesting that we denied the endorsement to Rep. Laura Richardson (CA-37) on the same day that she is forced to defend herself against allegations that she walked away from her foreclosed home in Sacramento.  It sounds like the Congresswoman renegotiated the loan, but the conservative fever swamps are all over this one (check the comments in that LAT blog post).  She did buy the half-million-dollar home with no money down, and then left Sacramento almost immediately after winning election to fill the open seat in Congress.

Tomorrow – Toward A New Energy Future

As long as we’re talking about what we’re all doing this weekend, I will be your intrepid reporter tomorrow, live from the Wadsworth Theater in Los Angeles at the Presidential Forum on Global Warming and Our Energy Future, sponsored by the California League of Conservation Voters, the enviro website Grist and PRI’s “Living On Earth” radio program.  Grist will have a live webcast of the forum tomorrow at 2:00pm PT.  You can find it here.  I’m expecting to liveblog the event at Calitics as well.

Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich are scheduled to attend, and speak for a half-hour on the environmental and energy proposals they would support as President.  The good news is that practically all of our Democratic candidates, even the ones who aren’t attending, have put out strong policies on fighting global warming and expanding renewable energy, from Chris Dodd’s corporate carbon tax to Bill Richardson’s ambitious CAFE standard porposal (50MPG) to Barack Obama’s 100% auction for a cap-and-trade system, where polluters would have to buy their carbon credits and not be given them.  Clinton and Edwards have also put out bold proposals in this arena, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about them tomorrow.

One thing you all can do TODAY is take action on the imminent federal energy bill.  There are three planks that everyone would like to see in it; a federal renewable energy standard that would mandate a healthy percentage of all electricity come from renewables like solar and wind; tax incentives for renewable energy, both for corporations AND for individuals who put solar panels on their house (this would be vital is California is to reach its One Million Solar Roofs Initiative), and a major increase in CAFE standards.  I believe that the first two would be signed by the President; he signed similiar legislation as the governor of Texas, and now Texas has MORE wind power than California.  Environment California is asking people to email Speaker Pelosi today and ask her to stand strong on the federal energy bill.

UPDATE: This ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is a positive step, requiring the Bush Administration to force SUVs and light trucks to meet the already-meager federal CAFE standards.  This would close a loophole the automakers have been using for a while.

A Carbon/Gas Tax for the Bay Area?

It’s not a new idea: Raise the gas tax as a method of both funding public transportation, as well as encouraging people to use it instead of their cars. Discussions of climate change, peak oil, and sustainable development usually always at some point or another emphasize a gas tax as a particularly effective carbon tax. And as the San Francisco Chronicle notes today, the SF Bay Area is starting give the idea serious consideration:

Regional officials are taking a close look at trying to increase the Bay Area’s gasoline tax by as much as 10 cents a gallon and believe voters might agree to it as a way to help combat global warming, The Chronicle learned Thursday.

Although the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission has been able to ask voters for a higher gas tax since 1997, a decade of polls indicated there was little chance such an unpopular idea would ever secure the necessary two-thirds approval in the nine Bay Area counties.

Now, however, with public concern building over climate change, the electorate might not be so opposed to a new gas tax as long as voters see it as a way to help the environment, officials said.

A 10-cent-a-gallon increase in the Bay Area could generate an estimated $300 million a year or more to pay for transportation-related projects. Although the money could be used for roads, the emphasis probably would be on public transit and efforts to reduce auto pollution.

But is this a workable plan – workable in both policy and political terms?

As we are well aware, any tax increase in California must get 2/3 approval, whether in the state legislature or at the ballot box. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which plans and helps fund transportation in the Bay Area, has found that it’s difficult to meet such a high threshold.

But apparently, linking the tax to global warming makes some difference:

The Bay Area Council, a business-backed public policy group, favors the fee approach, council spokesman John Grubb said. His organization last polled Bay Area voters three years ago about their feelings on raising the gas tax. Support then was around 50 percent. Tying the issue directly to global warming would help boost support, he said.

Whether it would boost support to 66.6% is another question entirely. One option is to charge a gas “fee” instead of a “tax” – it only requires a simple majority but, as the article notes, is much more restricted as to how funds raised can be spent.

Still, a gas tax brings with it significant costs as well as benefits.

The first is affordability. Although some opponents claim “this is probably the wrong time to raise the gas tax, given how high the cost of gas is now,” the fact is gas prices are not coming down anytime soon – if ever. Not only is peak oil a factor – increasing demand + finite supply = higher costs, but the devaluation of the US dollar is also pushing prices higher. Neither trend is going to ease anytime soon.

Because of the volatility of gas prices, I do not believe voters and drivers would actually notice the tax increase – especially if it is implemented in phases. In 2005 Washington State enacted a 9.5 cent gas tax, implemented via 3 3-cent increments between 2005 and 2007. Drivers barely noticed this, especially at a time when prices were swinging 40-50 cents a gallon.

Those who WOULD be most hurt by a gas tax are those hurt by any tax increase – the poor, the lower-income. Their neighborhoods have tended to be those least served by public transportation, although recent projects such as SF’s T-Third line have begun to address this.

That leads into my second point, which is that for a rise in the gas tax to have its intended effect of causing a shift away from single-occupancy internal combustion commuting toward public, mass transit, those alternatives need to already be in place. London has had dramatic success with a congestion charge, but it also already had the Underground, frequently rated as one of the world’s best public transit systems.

The Bay Area is better off as a whole than Southern California in terms of transit availability, but the remain both large gaps (especially in the Santa Clara Valley, but also in the East Bay) as well as places where current capacity needs significant rehabilitation (as in much of SF). This has not been helped by Arnold’s penurious funding of public transportation, evidenced by his $1.3 billion cut of mass transit funds from this year’s budget.

A gas tax, I believe, should be Step 2 of a comprehensive program to encourage sustainable, environmentally responsible transportation. Step 1 needs to be state-funded investment in public transportation to extend its reach. If there aren’t usable alternatives already in place, Californians will simply wind up paying more in gas taxes without making behavioral changes.

Also, a higher gas tax would also make sense paired with other methods to encourage public transportation and discourage driving, such as the congestion charge that SF has been considering.