Editorials

Summer’s here and California’s gas tax is rising. And that’s a good thing

Where greenhouse gases come from

Despite problems with its ‘cap and trade’ carbon market, California has made progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Here are the six main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the state.
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Despite problems with its ‘cap and trade’ carbon market, California has made progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Here are the six main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

Summer’s here, and so is the latest increase in California’s gas tax. Rejoice!

Okay, so nobody’s actually enthusiastic about higher gas prices. Before we feel tempted to complain or shake our fists in frustration at the nearest gas pump, however, let’s consider the benefits.

We need California’s highways, roads and bridges in good shape. After years of widespread deterioration due to the underfunding of road and highway maintenance, California had a $130 billion backlog of repairs. In response, California’s legislative leaders mustered the guts to raise the state’s gas tax with Senate Bill 1 in 2017.

By increasing the cost of a gallon of gas by 12 cents, raising vehicle registration fees and charging electric car owners a $100 annual fee, the state expects to generate $5.2 billion a year for road maintenance and improvement. So far, the state has expended over $2.3 billion in gas tax funds.

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We’re seeing results here in the Sacramento area, according to Caltrans, where more than 51 projects have been funded so far. These include:

A completed $10.1 million paving project to 59 lane miles of U.S. Highway 50 between Sunrise Boulevard in Sacramento County and the El Dorado County line

A completed $3.6 million project to widen striping and improve visibility on 381 lane miles of Interstate 5 in Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties

A proposed $267.4 million repaving project for Interstate 5 between Cosumnes Boulevard and the American River Bridge in Sacramento

So, when we find ourselves whizzing along a smooth new ribbon of freshly-poured asphalt – or even stuck in a jam as road crews repair a well-traveled artery – that’s our tax dollars at work.

Without roads and bridges, our economy can’t function. So, just as we pay bills for our homes, our electricity and our food, we also fund maintenance for our roads and bridges with a few extra cents.

Of course, when it comes to fossil fuels, a little gas tax is the least of our worries. Summer also brings with it the threat of deadly heat waves, massive wildfires and air so polluted it’s not safe for children to play outside.

The cost of fossil fuels turns out to be a lot higher than a few pennies on the dollar. The economic toll of overheating the planet could cost Americans hundreds of billions of dollars per year by the end of the century, according to the Fourth Annual Climate Assessment issued by 13 federal agencies last November.

The White House tried to bury the report by dumping it on Thanksgiving weekend, but its findings are hard to ignore. Extreme weather, increased temperatures and rising seas will devastate the United States economy.

For instance, extreme weather, heat and flooding will:

Reduce the fertility of wide swaths of farmland, reducing the nation’s crop yield, driving up food prices

Drive up electricity demand for cooling, costing an extra $5.8 billion a year

Escalate health care costs as more people suffer from asthma, allergies and other respiratory diseases

Cause major job losses as global warming harms entire sectors – like fishing, farming, tourism and winemaking

The climate crisis will also require us to spend more on our roads, as flooding, fires and pavement-warping heat take a toll.

Our problem isn’t the gas tax – it’s the gas itself. Climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels will be the biggest tax ever imposed on humankind, costing livelihoods and lives as well as money.

Of course, we can reduce the severity of these cataclysmic shifts by switching to clean energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Urgent action can save us trillions of dollars, and we have the technology we need to make the shift.

A recent poll suggests California also has the political will. The survey of 800 likely California voters, conducted by David Binder for the Sustainable Markets Foundation, found 53 percent in support of a proposal to “ban all oil drilling completely in California by 2040.” According to Politico California Playbook, support is especially strong among registered Democrats and independent voters: “68 percent support the proposal, as do 80 percent of those who voted for Gavin Newsom for governor in November 2018. Among independents, 54 percent back the proposal, while only 16 percent oppose.”

Such numbers provide cover should the governor decide to take bold action on the climate crisis. They also suggest that, despite efforts by some opponents to make the gas tax a divisive political issue, Californians are too smart to take the bait. With clean energy getting cheaper every year, the only question is whether we transition in time to avoid disaster.

Gas tax opponents who don’t support a phaseout of climate-killing fuels are simply blowing hot air. On a planet tipping towards mass extinction due to overheating, that’s the last thing we need.

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