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.

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8 responses to “2020 Assembly May Not Vote on Carbon Car Tax

  1. The TJ argument is that if you look at one place with reductions that they are so small as to have no virtual impact which if you used that same logic with say, storm ponds or reductions in some types of insectcides or tailpipe restrictions – it argues that it will not work but because the reduction is so tiny on the base level but if you total up ALL the emissions, it DOES add up and has for not only cap & trade but cleaning up the Bay and cleaning up the air around cities.

    It’s a disreputable but long-used argument – made by those opposed to environmental restrictions… every individual contribution is so “little” that it’s infinitesimal… so don’t do it. But the reality is that those individual cut-backs – add up to a LOT.

    We did exactly that with reductions in CFCs even as the same folks argued it would not work. Ditto with Acid rain… no one smokestack or one can of aerosol won’t do it – but when you add them all up – it does work.

    But in terms of TCI – they may well hold off on it – that shows you that the Dems are no so “wild” after all. More likely, if we’re going to have a gas tax anyhow – some part of that tax will be allocated for TCI with an eye to increasing it in the future.

    • What is shows is they read Bacon’s Rebellion! 🙂 In this case, if you dive into the data on the TCI website, you will see they really don’t make big claims about moving the needle on the temperature. They’ve run similar calculations, I assume. It certainly means nothing in the short run if the power plants still use coal and gas….and nobody out there is claiming anything will stop the rise (let alone reverse it). They just claim even the drastic reductions will simply slow the rise.

  2. Northam & Co. are shrewd to put TCI on the back burner. If they tried enacting that along with RGGI and utility regulatory reform, they would overload the legislature. I expect Northam will work to get RGGI passed this year TCI next year.

  3. Larry raises a legitimate point above. I don’t agree with him, but I think it’s a legitimate point to discuss. Steve and many others (including me) have argued that enacting X, Y or Z law in Virginia would have an infinitesimal impact on global temperatures. Not unreasonably Larry counters that everyone around the world needs to do their part to fight climate change, and if they do, their collective actions can make a difference.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that Virginia legislators need to do what’s best for Virginians. We have finite resources to devote to climate change and its impacts. Should we expend those resources trying to adjust the CO2 temperature knob or addressing the impacts of climate change (rising sea level, higher temperatures, droughts (in theory), extreme weather (in theory), and the like that have a direct impact on us?

    Spending billions on regulating CO2 will have an infinitesimal impact on global temperatures. Spending billions on palliative measures here in Virginia will have a major impact locally.

    • Well, you and Steve are essentially making a Tragedy of the Commons argument.

      So no – for Henrico to require storm ponds and cleaner wastewater treatment won’t clean up the bay- it will have a negligible impact, in fact.

      That’s been the traditional Conservative anti-environmental position for a long time.

      That was the argument with CFCs and the ozone holes – i.e. that it would do no good for the US to restrict because other countries would not.

      And in fact, most folks don’t realize that the Montreal Protocol BEGAN with the CFCs agreement:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montreal_Protocol

      The thing is, SOME Conservatives are Principled when it comes to issues like this and they refuse to parrot misinformation and disinformation put out by those opposed so I congratulate you on this and urge Steve to reconsider! 😉

      The much tougher environmental issues are where the emissions are tiny on a per polluter basis but they add up to a massive problem – Plastic in the Ocean is a good example also.

      The only way to address Climate Change is to start – with the idea that everyone will have to do their part and no one country alone – can succeed.

  4. It would seem logical to add a tax on electricity to replace the revenue lost from the gas tax as gasoline and diesel vehicles are phased out.

    • MCS: Well, when you go to pay your bill, how much went to charging the car? A VMT tax would be more practical.

      Larry: Unprincipled? You regularly call me worse. I doubt you took time to read Schnare’s white paper before dismissing it. The point of citing the comment from the International Energy Agency leader (hardly among the skeptics) was that even they don’t see a big move to electric vehicles — worldwide — as all that effective. Sure will make some car makers and power companies richer, though. People are choosing to go EV when it’s practical and they will be far more common soon, but government coercion is wrong and there will always be some internal combustion in use. This is about the money, just like RGGI.

      If you truly believe that the 20th-21st Century fossil fuel economy is the main culprit in rising temps and seas, Larry, then begin your adaptation planning now. Nobody is talking about stopping, let alone reversing it. Even the eco-dreamers only talk about bending the curve a bit. Yet another high falutin’ international confab just fell apart without an international action plan. The developing world is hungry for energy and the western lifestyle it brings. The peak oil and peak NG predictions are laughable and have a long history of being wrong. Virtue signal in your own life all you want. As I’ve said before, I’m all for taking those steps that have other environmental benefits and those steps include steady retirement of coal from the economy, the level of intermittent renewables the grid can handle, and encouragement of conservation, logical expansion of EVs, etc. After Bubba tells you where you can stick your gun laws, he will give you the same message when you come for his honking big pick up truck.

  5. Seems to me in America we are dealing with two emotions: (1) to be opposed to CO2, and (2) to be opposed to the fossil fuel industry. Emotion#2 may be stronger than Emotion#1. So electric cars speaks to Emotion#2, and a certain group feels strongly about that. Also like E10 ethanol, (3) electric cars creates jobs by carving out a space for a new technology and mandating it. Also it is (4) viewed by utilities as a way to increase electric demand, whereas demand is slackening.

    I am not an advocate of huge BEV incentives and mandates, but many others are. so I just have to live that, and 10% ethanol. NJ already gives 7% sales tax holiday for electric cars, and they are about to vote to add up to $5000 credit additional. Must be fully electric in NJ (no plug-in hybrids qualify).

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