Category Archives: Transportation

TCI Debate Rages in Comments on Proposed Rule

by Steve Haner

The political wannabes in both parties and the state’s media are continuing to ignore it, but the argument over the proposed motor fuel carbon tax called the Transportation and Climate Initiative rages in comments on the proposal flowing into its advocates.

The Thomas Jefferson Institute has also launched a short video (above), perhaps just the first, to alert the public through more populist means. It features owners of two regional fuel businesses, well known as major local employers and taxpayers. Without doubt, Virginia’s membership in TCI would shrink and perhaps severely damage those businesses.

The video was actually ready to use had the 2021 General Assembly taken up the issue, but Governor Ralph Northam did not ask for legislative permission to join the interstate compact involved. The state remains involved in the planning for the cap and tax and ration scheme, now set for 2023 in the states who agree to the compact.

If put in place, all fuel Virginia wholesalers would need to buy government-issued allowances to sell gasoline or diesel, in effect a carbon tax. The amount of allowances will be frozen to prevent the any growth in fuel sales, and then decline annually to force down consumption, in effect rationing.  Continue reading

TCI Model Rule Ready for Study, Comment

by Steve Haner

First published this morning by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.  (Happy birthday, Mr. President.)

Read the governing document for the Transportation and Climate Initiative and it becomes clear there is more going on than just an effort to reduce motor fuel use with a combination of taxes and shrinking caps. That may really be a secondary goal. Continue reading

Dominion EV School Bus Crash #3 Ends Session

Photo Credit: The Washington Post

by Steve Haner

Dominion Energy Virginia’s effort to force its ratepayers to finance a fleet of electric school buses has finally crashed, defeated by the House of Delegates for a third time in the final roll call of the 2021 General Assembly Saturday night.  Continue reading

The Future is Now

Seen in my neighborhood on my morning walk.

Work at Home and the Transportation Revolution

Long-Term Trend in Working at Home. Credit: Alan Pisarski

by James A. Bacon

It may be time for a major re-think of transportation policy. Alan Pisarski, a Northern Virginia transportation consultant, argues that the states should refrain for now from expanding the transportation system and dedicate funds to properly maintaining the transportation assets they have.

New technologies and business models, some accelerated by the COVID-19 epidemic, could radically change decades-old travel patterns. In a Reason Foundation presentation made last year, Pisarski said the level of uncertainty is “immense.”

Virginia legislators would do well to review Pisarski’s presentation as they tinker on the 2022-23 budget bills advancing through the General Assembly. Absent major changes, the commonwealth will allocate $8 billion roads and highways, almost $1 billion to rail and mass transit in fiscal 2022, and even more the following year. That includes $3.6 billion for new highway construction and $700 million for mass transit (mostly to support the Washington Metro). Spending is up dramatically from the $7.2 billion allocated to transportation in fiscal 2020. Fixated on social justice issues, legislators have been content to let the system run on auto-pilot, with funds allocated between maintenance, road construction, and transit investments according to complicated formulas. The larger issue of how much money Virginia really needs has gone unaddressed. Continue reading

Updates: PPP, PIPP, Dominion’s School Buses

by Steve Haner

Tax on Paycheck Protection Program Grants

The General Assembly session deadlines require final decisions on various revenue bills before the final budget bill is adopted, in theory keeping the two issues separate. What is good tax policy should not be driven by the need or greed of the appropriators.  Continue reading

Should Virginia Rebuff the HUF?

Rav4 hybrid — paying its fair share

by Bill Tracy

There’s a new Virginia tax called a HUF — for Highway Use Fee.

Who knew? Not me — until I had to pay it.

If you renew your Virginia vehicle registration, and your car exceeds a 25 miles-per-gallon EPA rating, you will be politely advised that you are underpaying pump taxes, and to be fair, you will be assessed an extra fee. In my case, I owed an extra $35 taxes because my new RAV4 Hybrid gets 40 MPG.

Because my wife and I do not put on many miles in retirement, and with COVID, that means I probably now pay a little more combined Virginia pump tax with my RAV4 Hybrid than I would with a non-hybrid RAV4. Not to mention significantly more annual car tax to Fairfax County. Continue reading

Dominion Electric Bus Scheme Back, With More

EV School bus? Storage battery? No, utility profit center.

by Steve Haner

First published this morning by Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

The ultimate goal of the Transportation and Climate Initiative with its tax and rationing scheme is to eliminate fossil fuels for transportation and get us into electric vehicles. That is something advocates have admitted and critics have pointed out. While Virginia TCI participation is on hold in this statewide election year, the 2021 General Assembly is following other pathways to the utopian EV future.

The House of Delegates has sent the Virginia Senate a bill to create a state financial incentive of $2,500 for purchase of a new or used electric vehicle. An additional $2,000 rebate is offered to a low- and middle-income buyer of a new car and $500 if that buyer choses a used EV.

The House has also passed legislation empowering the state’s Air Pollution Control Board to adopt state regulations on vehicle fleet fuel economy and to model California’s existing program forcing manufacturers to offer more zero- and low-emission vehicle sales in the state. This bill sets no goals but puts an accelerated process in motion, bypassing the full regulatory review, with a goal of regulating the 2025 model year vehicles offered in the state. Continue reading

Is It Time to Say Goodbye to Virginia Coal Exports??

Norfolk Southern’s coal loading terminal at Lambert’s Point in Norfolk

By Peter Galuszka

Oilprice.com, a petroleum trade newsletter, has a story that could spell more bad news for the faltering Virginia coal industry.

For many years, the most valuable product from Virginia’s coal fields was coking or metallurgical coal that is exported to other countries for use in steel making.

China has been a crucial buyer of Virginia coal but recent pronouncements from the Communist Party leadership indicate that coal is on its way out after leader Xi Jinping outlined a far-reaching program that set a peak of carbon emissions in 2030 followed by net zero policy by 2060.

Correspondingly, steel companies are also setting net zero carbon goals including the world’s biggest steel makers ArcelorMittal of Europe, Baowu Steel of China and Nippon Steel of Japan.

The moves could erase Virginia’s coal experts because the demand for the steam coal used to generate electricity has already been undercut by the remarkable growth of renewable energy sources like solar and wind in China and India. As they expand, their costs go down – below those of coal.

Coking coal exports from Hampton Roads could get slammed as global steelmakers experiment with new manufacturing processes. Continue reading

CO2 Taxes, Gas Rationing Poll Badly With Voters

By Steve Haner

The Transportation and Climate Initiative plan to tax and ration motor fuels suffered a major setback just before Christmas, when eight of the eleven states considering it decided not to move forward in 2021. Less than two weeks earlier, advocates had released polling that claimed to show overwhelming popularity for the idea.  Continue reading

$50 Million to Extend Amtrak Service to Christiansburg?

by James A. Bacon

In his proposed budget unveiled yesterday, Governor Ralph Northam provides $50 million to extend Amtrak passenger rail service from Roanoke to the New River Valley. The money would go to “right-of-way and easement acquisitions and anything that would help reduce bottlenecks to make way for a passenger train in the New River Valley,” reports the Roanoke Times.

“This is an important down payment on extending passenger rail connections in Southwest Virginia,” Northam said. But it’s not a done deal yet, says the Times. There is no firm timeline for when the state and Norfolk Southern Corp. will strike an agreement.

Fifty million dollars is a non-insubstantial sum. As Northam acknowledges, it is only a “down payment.” It does not cover, for instance, the cost of building an Amtrak station in Christiansburg. Some documentation exists online about projected ridership, revenue, and costs available, but I could not find a study that weighed the costs and benefits of the proposed route compared to alternative investments of the money.

Let’s review the numbers, such as we have them. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Stream-of-Consciousness Edition

New sparkplug for Colonial Williamsburg. Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, unsuccessful candidate for president and Virginia resident since 2011, has joined the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Board of Trustees as chairwoman. It is gratifying to see Fiorina, a truly dynamic individual, apply her talents to a Virginia enterprise. Colonial Williamsburg has suffered a long-term decline as American interest in visiting historical sites has ebbed. Like all tourism attractions, the preserved colonial town also has been hobbled by mandated and self-imposed travel restrictions during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Speaking of conserving history… The American Battlefield Trust has issued a report describing how developing massive solar farms can be made compatible with the preservation of rural historical resources. “Conflict tends to arise when developers disregard the historic and cultural landscapes on or near potential solar sites,” states the report, “Siting Solar in Virginia: Protecting Virginia’s Historic Landscape While Meeting the State’s Clean Energy Goals.” The report advises: (1) early planning and consultation can help avoid harm to historic resources; (2) localities should establish clear rules and guidelines; (3) developers should consider locating solar facilities on greyfield or brownfield land, or co-locating with existing uses such as rooftops and parking lots; (4) developers should proactively engage with the State Historic Preservation Office.

Speaking of solar production… Dominion Energy has scrapped its plans to build a $200 million gas-fired peaking plant at the Southern Virginia Megasite in Pittsylvania County. Reports the Chatham Star-Tribune: The company said it no longer believes it is possible to build the units planned in Pittsvylania County “despite the economic and reliability benefits for our customers.” Peaker plants offset fluctuations in supply and demand to maintain a stable electric grid, a concern that will become all the more pressing as Virginia moves to increased solar production. “We plan to conduct a further reliability study to determine how best to move forward to maintain the around-the-clock service our customers need.” Continue reading

The Virginia Green Car Buyer’s Blues

by Bill Tracy

Let me tell you a sad yarn about buying green cars in Virginia.

Due to a dead hybrid battery after 14 years and 192,000 miles, we recently traded in our classic 2006 Toyota Prius for a new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid LE, the cheapest green RAV4.

Had we lived in a different Blue state, we could have purchased the luxurious new RAV4 Prime Plug-In ($40,000 car), with heated seats and all of the fancy extras, cheaper (after taxes) than the $28,000 economy hybrid model, with no heated seats. How is this possible? Well, states like Colorado offer up to $5,000 plug-in vehicle rebate on top of the existing Federal $7,500 tax credit.  Furthermore, some states throw in generous additional benefits for plug-ins, such as free HOV/HOT lane use during the gridlocked rush-hour.

Virginia has no plug-in vehicle incentives yet, but per Jim Bacon’s recent article, that is on the agenda. The Old Dominion, however,  has a systemic problem in the new car showroom: high property taxes. Just ask former NFL star Michael Vick, who learned the hard way that the Virginia car tax is a progressive tax, especially punishing to newer cars, cleaner cars, and expensive cars.

Let’s take a close look at the green car math. Below I compare NoVA car costs to our neighbors in Washington, D.C. , which offers excise tax-free purchase of all green vehicles over 40 MPG EPA City.  Continue reading

TCI: Taxing the Poor to Benefit the Rich

New Jersey environmental justice advocate Maria Lopez-Nunez, lower left, speaks with organizers of the Transportation and Climate Initiative on September 29. Hear her here.

By Steve Haner

“I think TCI is just taxing poor people so that we can subsidize rich people’s electric cars.” 

So said New Jersey’s Maria Lopez-Nuñez, Deputy Director, Organizing and Advocacy for the Ironbound Community Corporation. She was speaking during an online seminar September 29 organized by Transportation and Climate Initiative advocates.

That particular comment can be heard at about 3:10 into this recording of her speech. The full meeting is recorded here, and her remarks start at about 1hour and 43 minutes in. Listen to her whole speech if you can. Listen to those that follow and you will learn she was not alone.

Lopez-Nunez is dead on correct that TCI imposes a major and very regressive tax to deliver minor reductions in CO2 emissions, and that moving people into electric cars merely moves the source of CO2 emissions from the roads to the power plants.

Run the projected CO2 emissions savings from TCI through the climate change models at the heart of this whole worldwide debate and the result is infinitesimal changes in the feared future temperature increases. Selling this as saving the planet is not credible, so the push is on to find a new rationale. The effort to make that “environmental justice” by targeting the tax money to their causes is not being well received.

Continue reading

The Coming Push for Electric Vehicles in Virginia

by James A. Bacon

Now that Virginia is committed to a 100% renewable electric grid by 2050, the push is on to decarbonize the transportation sector. In a word, that means persuading Virginians to switch from cars with internal combustion engines to electric vehicles (EVs). In an early sign of what’s to come, a Charlottesville-based group, Generation180, has published a report detailing policies needed to encourage widespread adoption of EVs in the Old Dominion, “Virginia Drives Electric 2020.

There is much good that can be said of electric vehicles. They have lower fuel prices and maintenance costs. Generation180 says the cost is $6,000 to $10,000 cheaper over the car’s lifetime. If that were accurate, I would expect to see more than 24,000 EVs on Virginia’s roads. Still, I buy the argument that the cost is increasingly competitive. Moreover, there is the social benefit from reduced pollution and lower CO2 emissions. I suspect those numbers are hyped and exaggerated, but clearly there is some benefit. All things considered, I think EVs are a great idea. But let’s not suspend our rational faculties when discussing them.

Generation180 has identified barriers in Virginia to rapid EV adoption. One is the shortage of inventory in automobile dealership showrooms. “We found 1,347 new and used electric vehicles in Virginia, compared to 2,399 in Maryland. In other words, inventory was 44 percent lower in the Virginia cities than in the comparable cities in Maryland.” Continue reading