Gas Tax Booster

Hartford Courant - - Front Page - By Daniel Knud­sen

A Connecticut res­i­dent ar­gues for rais­ing gas taxes, largely to help bat­tle cli­mate change and help the en­vi­ron­ment.

Ear­lier this year, a tor­nado ripped through south­ern Connecticut, nar­rowly miss­ing my par­ents’ house and shear­ing rows of the heavy oak trees that lined their street.

My two brothers live near San Fran­cisco, and like many Cal­i­for­ni­ans they are strug­gling to breathe due to some of the largest and dead­li­est for­est fires Cal­i­for­nia has known.

Puerto Rico, for years my fam­ily’s win­ter es­cape, was dev­as­tated a year and a half ago by Hur­ri­cane Maria.

I thought that the in­creas­ing fre­quency and in­ten­sity of cli­mate-in­flu­enced events would make it clear that cli­mate change was real and costly, yet there are still those who deny it and many more who are com­pla­cent.

How real does it have to get? Our re­cent gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion fo­cused more time and in­ter­est on taxes and tolls than on cli­mate change. Th­ese is­sues are not un­re­lated.

Connecticut cur­rently has no tolls, and the gas taxes do not cover the full cost of main­tain­ing the roads. This means Connecticut res­i­dents are sub­si­diz­ing driv­ing, which is do­ing ir­repara­ble harm to the en­vi­ron­ment, with gen­eral tax dol­lars.

As the United Na­tions re­port on cli­mate change states, and as the White House re­port on cli­mate change re­in­forces, we have 12 years to make large re­duc­tions in fos­sil fuel con­sump­tion, or ev­ery­one still alive in 30 years will be liv­ing in a world with cat­a­strophic en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

Rais­ing gas taxes can de­crease cli­mate change. It makes even those who have no in­ter­est in their car­bon foot­print ac­tive par­tic­i­pants in the so­lu­tion. Higher prices cause peo­ple to make bet­ter de­ci­sions about min­i­miz­ing fuel use, whether through com­bin­ing er­rands, uti­liza­tion of pub­lic trans­porta­tion or ride shar­ing.

One im­me­di­ate ef­fect of higher fuel prices is that peo­ple will choose to drive the ve­hi­cle that gets bet­ter mileage and leave the gas guz­zler sit­ting in the drive­way.

Rais­ing gas prices also en­cour­ages in­no­va­tion. As a car­pen­ter, I am very aware that some busi­nesses re­quire heavy ve­hi­cles that con­sume more gas. Au­to­mo­bile com­pa­nies are just be­gin­ning to make hy­brid pick­ups and eco-diesels for this work. Car man­u­fac­tur­ers are now mak­ing long-term plans to tran­si­tion to elec­tric ve­hi­cles. Ap­pro­pri­ately, high gas prices will speed the de­vel­op­ment of th­ese in­no­va­tions.

I pro­pose not in­creas­ing the over­all tax bur­den on the poor but shift­ing it so that the gov­ern­ment is no longer sub­si­diz­ing fuel con­sump­tion and en­cour­ag­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally detri­men­tal be­hav­ior. The in­creased rev­enue from tolls and gas taxes could be used to re­duce the crush­ing prop­erty taxes in our cities. Mak­ing cities more liv­able would also re­duce the need for driv­ing.

When taxes are raised on ac­tions that should be dis­cour­aged, such as en­ergy use, they can be low­ered on things that should be en­cour­aged, such as em­ploy­ment and hous­ing. It is time our tax struc­ture en­cour­ages a way of liv­ing that en­sures fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will have a world worth liv­ing in.

The strug­gle to pay at the pump pales in com­par­i­son to what we will be fac­ing in 30 years if we do noth­ing. Ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing those liv­ing pay­check to pay­check, will be bet­ter off pay­ing more at the pump than the al­ter­na­tives peo­ple will be fac­ing, such as re­lo­cat­ing out of Florida be­cause it is un­der­wa­ter, flee­ing the arid west be­cause of fires and lack of drink­ing wa­ter, or pay­ing to build lev­ees around New York, Philadel­phia and Wash­ing­ton.

There are many ways Connecticut’s gov­ern­ment must ad­dress CO2 emis­sions, from power gen­er­a­tion to farm­ing. I have specif­i­cally ad­dressed the gas tax be­cause trans­porta­tion is re­spon­si­ble for a third of the CO2 pro­duced and is some­thing in which we all par­tic­i­pate.

Would you rather pay more at the pump or have the hur­ri­canes that bat­ter our shores every year in­crease in in­ten­sity due to warmer oceans? How many peo­ple need to go through the trauma of re­lo­cat­ing and re­build­ing be­fore we act to re­duce the ef­fects of cli­mate change?

The sci­en­tists have done their job and made clear the need for the re­duc­tion in CO2 emis­sions. It’s our duty as ci­ti­zens to push our lead­ers to im­prove the tax de­sign and in­cen­tives so that Connecticut halves its fos­sil fuel use and mit­i­gates the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects of cli­mate change.

Daniel Knud­sen is a Cheshire res­i­dent and an in­de­pen­dent car­pen­ter.

SHANA SURECK/HARTFORD COURANT

For­mer Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieber­man pumped gas on Farm­ing­ton Av­enue in Hartford in March 1992. He was pump­ing gas to show that sup­port of higher gas taxes would cost tax­pay­ers and driv­ers.

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