NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 19, 2008

Despite all the talk about climate change, there is no groundswell for a gas tax hike --  which most economists agree is the fastest way to get drivers to drive less and buy more fuel-efficient vehicles -- in California, where even the nation's greenest electorate recoils at the idea of putting its money where its mouth is, says Henry Payne of the Detroit News.

Instead, they prefer federal command-and-control emission regulations on places like Detroit.  But there is scant historical evidence that such a regulatory approach works:

  • Europe's cap-and-trade system has notably failed to meet its Kyoto carbon dioxide reduction goals.
  • U.S. mileage standards begun in the 1970s only worked for as long as gas prices remained high.
  • As gas prices moderated the last 20 years, U.S. consumption increased 20 percent.

Europe, too, has implemented mileage standards in the past decade, but they have been ignored.  Only years of taxation -- a direct challenge to consumer behavior -- has shown a cause-effect relationship:

  • Three decades of $3-per-gallon fuel taxes have forced consumers to choose smaller, diesel-powered cars in Europe, resulting in a 15 percent decrease in carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Still, says United Nations climate panel member John Christy of the University of Alabama-Huntsville, if California's proposed 44 mpg standard were "applied to the entire world, the net effect would reduce projected warming by an amount so minuscule as to be undetectable."

Despite the evidence, California politicians continue to prefer the easy road of outsourcing green sacrifice by complaining about emission standards while sticking Midwestern auto states with the bill for their social conscience, says Payne. 

Source: Henry Payne, "California won't walk talk on climate change," Detroit News, February 14, 2008.


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