The carbon tax camp lost a powerful congressional voice yesterday when Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) announced he was taking "off the table" the hybrid carbon tax proposal he floated last fall that featured a national carbon fee, supplemental increases in taxes on gasoline and aviation fuel, and a reduction in the mortgage interest deduction for super-large houses.
In a prepared statement, the Michigan lawmaker, who for much of his 54 years in Congress has chaired the House Energy & Commerce Committee, reiterated that "economists and other experts continue to inform us that a carbon tax is the most effective and efficient way at getting at the problem of global warming." Dingell also noted that his online poll query, "Do you approve of the idea of a carbon tax?," earned a "Yes" from 61 percent of the 2,900 respondents.
In his statement, which was first reported yesterday in The Hill, Dingell pointed to rising gas prices and the gathering recession, saying, "Times have changed; our economy has taken a hard downward turn and now is not the time for us to put any additional financial burden on the working families of Michigan or this nation."
The irony is that a revenue-neutral carbon tax would not act as a drag on economic activity, since the return of the tax revenues to Americans via tax-shifting or dividend rebates would fully offset the higher costs of fuels and energy.
John McCain has a brilliant, original idea: Let's encourage Americans to drive more by lifting the gas tax for a summer "holiday."
Presumably it's the same principle as the "surge" in Iraq: so many soldiers are getting killed, let's send even more!
Here are some guaranteed effects from McCain's brainstorm. It would:
- Deepen the federal deficit, thereby weakening the dollar.
- Increase gasoline consumption, in one stroke worsening highway gridlock, compounding U.S. oil dependence, and speeding up global warming.
- Transfer what used to be tax revenue -- potentially usable for public benefit -- to the oil companies and the Saudis by pushing up oil demand.
Terrific, eh? McCain could drive to a gas station, perhaps in a jumpsuit with a padded crotch, stand surrounded by Uzi-toting Blackwater thugs while a parade of Hummers top off their tanks, and proclaim Surge II a success.
Photo: Tom Twigg
Albany strikes again: congestion pricing -- the smartest urban-transportation idea since the subway -- has been buried by the professional morticians of the New York State legislature, led by
Chief GhoulAssembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
As previously reported, the pricing plan, proposed a year ago by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and subsequently improved by a 17-member state-mandated commission, would have charged an $8 entry fee on cars driven into Manhattan's central business district (CBD) during 6 a.m. - 6 p.m. on weekdays. Benefits included an annual $500 million revenue stream for mass transit (sufficient to bond at least $5 billion in capital improvements), a solid if unspectacular drop in traffic gridlock and pollution, and, perhaps most significantly, a first step toward knocking the automobile off its privileged perch atop the New York street pyramid. Not to mention establishing the principle that safeguarding "the commons" -- our air, water and public space -- requires that we exact from ourselves a commensurate price for uses that damage or deplete it.
Congestion pricing was backed by an unusually broad coalition of labor, business, enviros (the full spectrum from EJ to Big Green) and civic associations. Yet neither this broad-spectrum support nor the plan's extraordinary vetting over the past 12 months deterred legislators from both parties from citing "unanswered questions" and assailing bogus inequities.
Calling today "a sad day for New Yorkers and New York City" and noting federal support for congestion pricing, Mayor Bloomberg blasted the legislature, stating that, "Even Washington, which most Americans agree is completely dysfunctional, is more willing to try new approaches to longstanding problems than our elected officials in the State Assembly."
With so much going for it, what killed the plan? There will be time later for sober postmortems, but for now, here's my shoot-from-the-hip Top 10 list of what felled congestion pricing in NYC:
It's High Noon for congestion pricing in New York City.
If by week's end the City Council and State Legislature haven't enacted a fee to drive into Manhattan's central business district, the city will forfeit a substantial federal mass-transit grant and congestion pricing will probably be a dead issue for the remainder of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's second and final term.
Coincidentally, this month also brings a deadline of sorts for the Cape Wind project off Cape Cod. The federal Minerals Management Service is accepting comments on its Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Cape Wind through April 21.
What do a wind farm for Nantucket Sound and congestion pricing for Manhattan have in common, and why are both so significant for the environmental cause?
Both would directly reduce the burning of fossil fuel -- in oil-fired generating plants and gasoline-burning tailpipes, respectively -- thus cutting greenhouse gas emissions. And both have been on the table for a good half-dozen years, if not more, which shows you just how hard it is to take away entitlements cherished by powerful minorities. The entitlements in question are a kind of unpurchased, appropriated ownership of the Nantucket Sound "viewshed" enjoyed by wealthy Cape Cod landowners and an equally groundless right to drive for free enjoyed primarily by relatively well-off New York commuters.
Both proposals demand of citizens that they make connections which are not obvious yet are quite real: that windmills keep fossil fuels elsewhere in the ground, and that congestion pricing is the only sure way for drivers to compensate for the harms they inflict on the city.