If lawmakers in Olympia are serious about
global warming, there is a simple solution that economists agree is the
easiest, most efficient way to curb the Evergreen State’s carbon
footprint: a gasoline tax.
Thanks to an abundance of hydropower, most of Washington’s
greenhouse gas emissions come from cars, so a steep gasoline tax would
go a long way toward inducing climate-friendly behavior such as car
pooling and public transportation. Given a gas tax, the state’s
contribution to climate change would plummet quickly.
There is, however, a problem: People think they already pay too much
for gasoline. According to a recent poll by the National Center for
Public Policy Research, 48 percent of Americans are unwilling to spend
even a penny more in gasoline taxes to help reduce U.S. greenhouse gas
emissions. Just 18 percent of Americans are willing to pay 50 cents or
more in additional taxes per gallon of gas to cut emissions.
So voters are sending a mixed message to policymakers. They want to
"do something" about climate change, but they aren’t willing to pay to
do it. Faced with these contradictory demands, what are politicians to
They pass the buck, which is precisely what Washington lawmakers did
last month when they enacted the Climate Action and Green Jobs bill.
Part of the law is fanciful. It calls for the creation of 25,000
so-called green jobs by 2020 without specifying where those jobs will
come from, or what they will be. In any case, it’s ridiculous to think
that the government can create thousands of jobs with the flick of a
pen, unless we are talking about bureaucrats.
Worse still, the legislation fails to identify how Washington would
achieve greenhouse gas emissions cuts of 50 percent below 1990 levels
by 2050. Instead, it gives state regulatory agencies the unenviable
task of planning emissions reductions that would not cripple the
economy. They call it the "Climate Action" law but it contains little
Washington is not the only state to kick the climate can down the
road. Across the country, states are ignoring the fundamental question:
Who’s going to pay to cure the climate?
In Hawaii, Connecticut and California, lawmakers passed legally
binding emissions reductions without suggesting how those reductions
would take place. The governors of New Jersey, Florida and Colorado
committed their states to non-binding emissions targets, but kept
silent on their strategy for achieving these cuts. For all the talk, no
one has yet to put forth a viable plan to reduce emissions.
Maybe that’s the point. After all, it’s a politician’s job to heed
voters. Look around and you’ll notice that Americans aren’t sacrificing
much to curb their carbon footprints. Despite the threat of a warmer
world, people still want big houses and cheap gas. If voters don’t care
enough to act, why should their elected representatives?
Someday, Washington voters will have an honest and frank discussion
about the costs and benefits of "doing something" about climate change.
Until then, they will have to make do with empty promises like the
Climate Action and Green Jobs law.