2020 Assembly May Not Vote on Carbon Car Tax

By Steve Haner

It now seems unlikely the 2020 General Assembly will act directly on Virginia’s membership in the proposed Transportation and Climate Initiative, an interstate compact to cap, tax and then start to ration fossil fuels that add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Virginia would be the southernmost member.

While six pieces of pending legislation (so far) mention the similar Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which caps, taxes and rations CO2 from power plants, the silence continues on TCI. It has been conspicuously absent from gubernatorial pronouncements on these issues. A Virginia Mercury story this week on various environmental proposals cited a December statement from him that “no decisions have been made,” although it wasn’t clear on what.

When organizers of the TCI compact released their draft memorandum of understanding last month, they clearly were pointing to action in the various states in the near future. But the MOU itself is only an outline, with many blanks to fill in. An argument that the issue is not ripe for the legislature could be valid. What is the actual goal or schedule for forced supply reductions?

An argument that it doesn’t need legislative blessing at all, however, would not be valid. Virginians should not be subjected to this tax, cap and ration regime without a recorded vote by their elected representatives.

What people can do now, if they care, is register an opinion with the TCI organizers on their public input portal. Their last round of comments included many who dislike this idea, so they are asking again now that more details are out.

The Mercury piece also pointed to what is likely a key additional reason for delay.

…(S)tates that formally sign onto the initiative could see incremental increases in fuel prices in 2022 that are as low as 5 cents per gallon or as high as 22 cents per gallon depending on the cap chosen. How favorably lawmakers may react to the proposal now that numbers are beginning to be attached to it may depend in part on the success of the governor’s proposed gas tax.

Unless it just came in, Governor Ralph Northam’s 2020 transportation funding proposal is not yet introduced. It is expected to include moving more of Virginia’s fuel tax revenues to a cents-per-gallon excise tax and increasing that tax by 12 cents per gallon in three phases. Getting the Assembly to vote for that will be challenging enough without dragging this carbon car tax into the discussion. The Governor has been the first to admit that fuel taxes are regressive, causing the most pain for modest income families and small businesses.

The administration’s bill may also lay the groundwork for moving Virginia to reliance on a vehicle miles traveled fee for transportation funding. That will be essential if TCI is adopted and it succeeds in slashing fuel consumption, and related fuel taxes.

With breathing room now, a real debate on the merits of TCI should commence. The Thomas Jefferson Institute’s environmental analyst, David Schnare, wrote this to pick apart the advocates’ claims of environmental and health benefits from reduced fuel use. The economic pain will produce virtually no environmental or health gain, he states. The piece is a bit technical but provides some insight into how the claims are made and supported.

Using the CO2 and temperature model, used by people who believe in a strong connection, the measured temperature benefit from this is 0.000018 percent. That is basically two one-hundred-thousandths of 1 degree Celsius. The atmospheric irritants other than CO2 that might be reduced are already meeting environmental health targets in Virginia.

In an editorial today, the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star picked up a quote from an unlikely skeptic of the value of moving to all-electric transportation:

Even Fatih Biurol, head of the International Energy Agency, acknowledged that eliminating gas- and diesel-powered vehicles would have a negligible effect on the climate. “Electric cars will not save the climate. That is completely wrong,” he said. “Going from 2 to 300 million electric cars will affect the global greenhouse gas emissions by less than 1 percent. So, if you think you can save the climate with electric cars, then you are completely wrong. It will be a modest contribution, but not the solution.”

The disruption to the economy this would create won’t be modest. It should not be done until is has been completely vetted and then subjected to a legislative vote.