February 21, 2009
Carbon Taxes Very Unpopular In United States

Heather Mac Donald points out that even though the state of California is trying to fill in a $42 billion dollar budget deficit the people of California are so adamantly opposed to a gasoline tax increase that the state legislature opted to increase the sales tax rather than enact a carbon tax.

So did a proposed 12-cents-a-gallon surcharge on gas make it into the crippling $12.8 billion in tax hikes which the California legislature finally passed yesterday?  Of course not.  Voters would raise bloody hell.  Better, apparently, to kill all businesses slowly with a sales tax hike than to interfere with Californians’ right to cheap gasoline.  Liberal politicians’ pious devotion to the science of global warming never translates into action, unless the costs of action can be safely transferred onto non-voters.  And environmental groups are just as cowardly.  I sure didn’t notice the Sierra Club or the NRDC protesting when presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called for a suspension of the federal gas tax last year.

This is not an amazing result. Gasoline taxes are so unpopular that their levels haven't even kept up with inflation for funding road maintenance. I realize some of you support a carbon tax because you are worried about global warming. But in spite of the fact that California enacted a law in 2006 to cut carbon dioxide emissions 25% by 2020 the people of California are not willing to pay a even a small price to achieve this goal. This has important ramifications for the global warming policy debate.

How unpopular are higher gasoline taxes in the US for roads and bridges? In August 2008 a poll found nearly two thirds of Americans opposed higher gasoline taxes to fix bridges. In July 2007 an overwhelming majority of Americans opposed a 50 cent gasoline tax.

Eighty-six percent (86%) of Americans oppose a proposal to increase gasoline taxes by 50 cents a gallon. A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that just 8% favor such a tax hike.

Consider the contrast with cigarette taxes. Since most people do not smoke and they see cigarettes as harmful it is easy for many governments to impose high taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

A 2006 New York Times poll found that while inititally overwhelmingly opposed to a higher gasoline tax support rose when it was couched as a way to decrease imports and reduce global warming.

Eighty-five percent of the 1,018 adults polled opposed an increase in the federal gasoline tax, suggesting that politicians have good reason to steer away from so unpopular a measure. But 55 percent said they would support an increase in the tax, which has been 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993, if it did in fact reduce dependence on foreign oil. Fifty-nine percent were in favor if the result was less gasoline consumption and less global warming. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

But so far this qualified support hasn't translated into a tax rise. Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts is proposing a 19 cent gasoline tax to help close the Massachusetts budget gap. Note that even if he succeeds the amount is so small that it will have minimal impact on gasoline demand. Several other states are considering gasoline tax increases to cut budget deficits. But again, even if these taxes are enacted the increases are small and fall far short of the high gasoline taxes in Europe that have pushed so many Europeans into very small cars.

Politicians who want to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will continue to find back door ways to do this where the higher costs are hidden from most voters. California and other states and countries have enacted requirements on utilities to get more electricity from renewables. This causes electricity prices to rise. But there's no identifiable tax on utility bills for this purpose. So few voters think to complain.

Tax credits and other subsidies for solar, wind, other renewables, and nuclear represent another way around popular opposition to fossil fuels energy taxes. Tax something else and then use the cash to subsidize non-fossil fuels energy sources. I happen to like this approach as a way to reduce growth of coal usage for generating electricity. Just due to conventional pollutants alone I wish we either burned much less coal or imposed stricter regulations on coal burning plants to cut mercury, particulate and other pollutant emissions. But the coal industry has done an excellent job of obstructing regulations to reduce pollutants.

Probably the most dramatic way that government policy attempts to work around opposition to fossil fuels taxes is with car fuel efficiency regulation. The US federal government and state government have enacted regulatory requirements for more fuel efficient cars. A more economically efficient way to reduce fuel usage is a tax. But this more economically efficient method isn't used because the public is too opposed. Hence the regulations to force car makers to make more fuel efficient cars.

I expect Peak Oil will eventually drive US gasoline prices up to levels close to Europe's current levels. I hope the rise in gasoline prices due to Peak Oil won't be so sudden and severe that our economy is crippled as a result. One thing a higher gasoline tax would do now is provide incentives to get ready for Peak Oil before it hits in full force. But the popular opposition to high gasoline taxes effectively precludes the optimal amount of preparation needed for Peak Oil.

Update: Think you can follow the global warming debate from political op-ed columns? Check out Carl Zimmer's run-down of a newspaper's mistakes in fact checking reports about ice cap areas.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 February 21 09:25 PM  Energy Policy

Bruno said at February 22, 2009 6:06 AM:

Peak oil? In a worldwide recession? Good luck with that.
Same thing for big tax boosts, including carbon taxes.
Things are going to crap under the new US president and the whole world is paying the price.
Can't you Yanks do anything right?

Paul F. Dietz said at February 22, 2009 6:27 AM:

A carbon tax and a gasoline tax are very different things. The federal government could raise taxes on carbon and reduce excise taxes on gasoline so gasoline prices didn't change, while still reducing CO2 emissions. I say federal government because the target of this would be coal, and California doesn't burn much coal (although they import electricity from coal fired plants in other states.)

lance said at February 22, 2009 9:44 AM:

So, If I exercise, do I pay an additional carbon tax and conversely, will I get subsidized to keep my lazy ass on the couch?

Bob Badour said at February 22, 2009 10:14 AM:

High taxes are not the only factor keeping Europeans in small cars. Most Europeans occasionally have to deal with Medieval streets laid out for largely pedestrian traffic with maybe the occasional horse or donkey cart. Lack of space is another big factor.

sinmone said at February 22, 2009 11:34 AM:

Gas taxes to reduce consumption are wrong headed. Let the market price gas. People made home and work choices based upon prices of gas. They will need time to adjust. The use of taxes only complicates market adjustments which are long tailed given the need to cover large investments consumers made in homes and transport. The use of taxes to pay for repairs is a legitimate rationale. The push back is that spending always appears to be redirected by pols for other pet projects.

The problem with a carbon tax is that the science on the rationale stinks. Yes we know that man produces CO2, but we do not know its impact. It does not matter one bit that the majority of climate experts say differently. The facts do not support their modeled contentions. The models are not working and have not correctly forecast recent changes in temperature. Their assertions that the models are more accurate over longer periods of times violates everything we know about modeling and forecasting. Further, we are no longer confident that the raw data they use is raw. The continuous reports of fabricated data casts serious doubt on their motives.

CO2 levels are not humanities greatest concern.

Tom Bri said at February 22, 2009 11:40 AM:

Americans might be willing to pay higher taxes for such things as bridge repair, if we had any confidence that the money would actually be used for that purpose. Instead, any new tax moneys would probably only be used to offset other movements of money OUT of road funds. We have seen this gag to often to be easily taken in.

When we see politically powerful Senators giving up expensive perks, (like jets to take one Senator plus her staff from Washington to California)then we might agree to some additional taxes. Seeing the lavish corruption of our political class makes even liberals reluctant to personally pay more taxes, though they may be willing to stick the bill on other people, as with the example of tobacco taxes.

Marcel F. Williams said at February 22, 2009 11:56 AM:

Instead of a carbon tax on gasoline, the Federal government needs to simply mandate that a certain percentage of gasoline sold to the public contain at least some carbon neutral gasoline. You can manufacture gasoline from methanol using the Mobil Oil MTG process (New Zealand use to produce 600,000 tonnes of gasoline per year from methanol using this process. And you can manufacture methanol from municipal garbage and sewage, agricultural waste, and via hydrogen from water and CO2 from air extraction technologies using nuclear or hydroelectric power.

The Federal government should mandate that 5% of all gasoline sold in the country be composed of carbon neutral gasoline by 2015 and 10% by 2020. And this should apply to other fuels such as diesel and jet fuel which can also be manufactured through nuclear and renewable resources. Then we'll finally be on the road towards ending our dependence on greenhouse gas pollutiong fossil fuels before the year 2050.


David Govett said at February 22, 2009 1:03 PM:

Life is ever so much simpler when one conjures up a scapegoat to blame for everything. Henceforth, I shall blame the EU for each and every one of the world's ills. Suddenly, it all makes sense.

Anonymous said at February 22, 2009 2:20 PM:

So, what you're saying is that liberals aren't really all about death after all? When given the opportunity to tax plant food, they actually shrink from it?

Nick G said at February 22, 2009 3:12 PM:

Politicians have a bully pulpit. When the press is afraid to provide an independent point of view, when it abdicates its responsibility to be a check on politicians, then there's nobody to provide alternative information.

So, when politicians like Shwarzenegger and Bush paint car and gas taxes as spawn of the devil, how can other politicians stand up against that?

Why do some politicians oppose car and gas taxes? Perhaps they're representing the interests of the millions of Americans who would be hurt if their investments and careers became obsolete, in the oil & gas and car industries.

We need to find a way to move to new forms of energy, and that includes finding a way to help people who will be hurt by the transition, both out of human compassion and in order to break our current paralysis. What does that mean? I'm not sure, but perhaps it's large subsidies for conversion.

Bob Badour said at February 22, 2009 6:06 PM:

Nick G,

When people, regular people, whose livelihoods depend on inexpensive energy hate carbon taxes with the passion we have for hating them, how can any politicians stand up against that?

Stephen Dion ran on a carbon tax here in Canada, and the electorate handed him his ass on a platter. My own riding, full of farmers and fishermen, voted in a Conservative after 30 or so years of Liberals. The former Liberal MP was smart enough to retire rather than run on that idiotic platform.

Fat Man said at February 22, 2009 6:37 PM:

"So, when politicians like Shwarzenegger[sic] and Bush paint car and gas taxes as spawn of the devil, how can other politicians stand up against that?"

Like the car tax Arnold agreed to last week?

Nick G said at February 23, 2009 10:14 AM:

"Like the car tax Arnold agreed to last week?"

Well, he did make elimination of a car fee a central element of running for office. Not vetoing a crisis budget because it includes a car fee (which, IIRC, is rather smaller than the one he fought before) isn't exactly a strong endorsement of the idea, and doesn't really undo the damage from the earlier fight.

"Store owner Navid Mahgerefteh said he earns less than $75,000 a year and calculated that he'd spend an additional $315 to re-register his Jeep Cherokee and BMW 528i."

He's asking for sympathy because his BMW and SUV will cost a bit more - what can I add to that?

glenn said at February 23, 2009 11:02 AM:

Actually the State of California began siphoning off the gas tax money some years ago. We now use it to pay a significant Democratic Party constituency (people on welfare) to sit home.And their public employee enablers generous pay and benefit packages.

th said at February 23, 2009 1:53 PM:

"Why do some politicians oppose car and gas taxes? Perhaps they're representing the interests of the millions of Americans who would be hurt if their investments and careers became obsolete, in the oil & gas and car industries."
Maybe because it's the only way to get the attention of those who pay no property taxes or income taxes for votes, the free of all taxation class is becoming a favorite constituency of both parties.

joated said at February 24, 2009 11:39 AM:

Since when is an increase of 19 cents a gallon "small"? With gasoline selling for around $2 per, that's a 10% hike in the pump price.

And the price of gas in California is already one of the highest in the lower 48.

mrkwong said at February 24, 2009 12:05 PM:

I've got a far, far better idea - how 'bout an honest assessment of (a) whether anthropogenic global warming is anything more than the squeakiest of wheels getting the grease (b) whether, if in fact it's real, it's actually damaging (c) whether CO2 really contributes to it (without recourse to computer models that pile unrealistic assumption atop unrealistic assumption) and (c) whether human generated CO2 is a significant factor in that. So far we haven't gotten anywhere in that discussion because the global-warming boosters are out there screeching at the top of their lungs and the rest of us just want to cut them off at the knees.

Randall Parker said at February 24, 2009 12:17 PM:


19 cents a gallon is small stuff when several months ago the price was over $4 per gallon.

Also, it is small compared to what would cause a large sustained change in consumer behavior.


If only it was that easy. The problem is that it is beyond our scientific and technical capabilities to model and accurately predict long term climate changes. We end up having to make decisions based on very incomplete understandings.

Trent Telenko said at February 24, 2009 12:42 PM:

Here’s how the Obama administration will get Congress to enact carbon-trading and the rest of the Green’s no-growth/Kyoto agenda.

They'll turn it into a new revenue source for Congress, by letting Congress sell EPA exemptions to industry in exchange for campaign contributions.

This will be bi-partisan. I.e. a corrupt political system will ruin the U.S. economy.



Bad Cop, Worse Cop [Chris Horner]

Climate Czarina Carol Browner sat down with some media this weekend to affirm, in the most transparent fashion possible, my assertion that the administration plans to use the threat of an EPA "endangerment" finding to frighten industry into a nice, clean, controversy-free negotiated legislative settlement of the whole Kyoto agenda . . . that thing that they are terrified to do to you without industry cover.

Her message was boy, they'd sure prefer legislation to the havoc that EPA might wreak and, by the way, they're getting ready to set EPA loose any moment now. Who's up for some surrend- . . . some legislation!?

That this is their plan couldn't be any more obvious. But the only way to affirm that this is a bluff is to use patient, empirical observation. Observed temperatures put the lie to computer climate models. Here, too, we should wait the prediction out. If the Obama administration pushes EPA to regulate CO2 as a pollutant, they will be on the hook for the consequences. Do you really think they want that? I was informed by an insider before this threat that they do not. They're confident they can threaten their way into being given a pass on this.

I have a piece in the queue at Human Events picking this apart, and noting that the only thing more pathetic would be if any in industry — and you few trade groups being targeted know who you are — fall for it.

In the meantime, it's high time that we start naming names of the Top Ten Companies Lobbying to Increase Your Energy Taxes. We're working on that one. Let's see how a little sunshine works. If it also serves to help keep some wobblies from selling out, all the better.




EPA Set to Move Toward Carbon-Dioxide Regulation

Climate Czar Says Agency Will Determine That Greenhouse Gas Endangers Public, Propose New Emissions Rules


WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's climate czar said the Environmental Protection Agency will soon determine that carbon-dioxide emissions represent a danger to the public and propose new rules to regulate emissions of the greenhouse gas from a range of industries.

Carol Browner, special adviser to the president on climate change and energy, said in an interview Sunday that the EPA is looking at a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that requires the agency to determine whether carbon dioxide endangers public health or welfare. And the agency "will make an endangerment finding," she said.

"The next step is a notice of proposed rule making" for new regulations on carbon-dioxide emissions, said Ms. Browner, speaking on the sidelines of the National Governors Association meeting in Washington.

Officially recognizing that carbon dioxide is a danger to the public would require the government, under the Clean Air Act, to draw up regulations governing greenhouse-gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, refineries, chemical plants, cement firms, vehicles and any other emitting sectors.

[FuturePundit deleted the rest of the article since it seems like far too much copyrighted material to copy]

Mike Kelley said at February 24, 2009 1:34 PM:

If you want to see what a lousy job they have done measuring temperature in this country, look at Anthony Watts' research on them. He shows that the original data underlying the global warming stuff is fatally flawed. Most of the sites Watts and his crew have looked at and photographed don't meet even minimal standards laid down by the government. Some were in rural areas that urbanized (and therefore got warmer), and some are near heat sources like AC units and vents. About 1990, a huge number of mostly rural stations were dropped from the database. Watts is a must-read if you are interested in learning the truth about this politically-charged issue. http://wattsupwiththat.com/ http://www.surfacestations.org/

david said at February 24, 2009 2:27 PM:

To Randall Parker, If climate and our alleged effect on it are so beyond our ability to accurately predict, why overturn our economies to "stop" the damage. It sounds more like religion than science to me.

Randall Parker said at February 24, 2009 3:01 PM:

Mike Kelley,

I agree that Anthony Watts provides a very useful service. His identification of poorly located temperature measurement stations has improved data quality.


I'm actually not up for overturning our economies. Since there's a degree of uncertainty and since we have ways to do climate engineering I prefer smaller steps than Al Gore advocates. I would like to stop coal electric power plant construction and replace it with nuclear power plant construction. That might increase costs by 2-3 cents per kwh. Not enough to overturn our economies. We'd get fewer particulates, less mercury, less oxides of sulfur and nitrogen out of the bargain. Seems like a good step to me.

John said at February 24, 2009 4:08 PM:

California already has a very high per gallon state tax on gasoline. The sales tax also applies to gasoline purchases.

david said at February 24, 2009 7:18 PM:

Randall, I wish we would build nuclear plants, and I would support some other efforts in "clean power" if coupled with this approach. However, there appears to be zero support from the green side on a technology that is ready now. This factor alone does more to discredit that movement than anything yet proven in science. It seems you may be a reasonable minority on this issue.

casey said at February 24, 2009 9:00 PM:

1. A lot of people in California have long commutes; a large jump in gas prices would wipe out any housing recovery in a good part of the state. 2. The global warming fanatics "do as I say/not as I do" mentality has cost them. 3) Having a global warming conference in Bali - where they have to import most of the conference/party goods and fly all those people in. 4) Why would anyone trust what these people say - most of them make a lot of money off of global warming and don't "walk the walk".

c3heditor said at February 25, 2009 5:49 AM:

I don't believe in the AGW theory and I don't live in a high tax state like California. With that said, a 19 cents per gallon tax that would help reduce our use of fossil fuels and drive us to be more energy efficient would be acceptable to me. Over time, the politicians should incrementally increase the tax, let's say 5 cents per year. I can live with that too.

The real deal breaker on a carbon tax like this, for me, would be where the gas tax revenues are going to be spent. If the tax revenue is going to be given to the local Acorn chapter or to farmer who receives crop subsidization, forget it! If it is used to close budget gaps, forget it! First cut the subsidies, the handouts, and spending - get the budget in order like any business or household then we can talk a carbon tax to save the world or whatever.

Scott said at February 25, 2009 6:37 PM:

One of the reasons that there is such staunch opposition to carbon taxes in the US (and by the way, elsewhere, including places like the UK) is that there is no belief at all that the various governments pushing them wish to do anything other than use them as yet another source of revenue. The Times article suggesting that opposition softens if the question is posed differently also assumes that nobody would raise the obvious counterargument that these new taxes would simply be added to the general revenue pool that the feds would waste on yet more payoffs to their various client groups. Put this in the context of the passage by the house of a new $410 billion spending package today, and the basis for opposition becomes quite easy to understand.

With that said, the increasing collapse of the AGW scam isn't helping people swallow this snake oil...

As a minor point, I agree with Randall that it is probably a good idea to move away from fossil fuels irrespective of whether or not AGW is real (and that useful steps can be taken to do this), but the "do it now, no compromises, and damn the consequences" attitude of the green know nothings makes it very hard to take even responsible steps.

th said at February 26, 2009 6:19 AM:

"Update: Think you can follow the global warming debate from political op-ed columns? Check out Carl Zimmer's run-down of a newspaper's mistakes in fact checking reports about ice cap areas."

If you look at the northern hemisphere ice anomaly graph you can see where the peak in 09 is the same as the low in 79. The winter ice of 09 equaled the summer ice of 79, not something I would brag about but its sort of correct.

Randall Parker said at February 26, 2009 8:37 PM:


I do not like carbon taxes precisely because they will be in addition to other taxes. I would be less opposed if the carbon taxes got handed back out as tax credits for solar, wind, and nuclear. A net tax neutral regime to move away from fossil fuels appeals to me. But the politicians aren't going to offer that.

I think we are very close to a big permanent oil production decline. When that shock hits us today's fossil fuels debate will seem quaint.

th said at February 27, 2009 3:09 PM:

"I think we are very close to a big permanent oil production decline. When that shock hits us today's fossil fuels debate will seem quaint."
Venezuala just put out offers for US oil cos to help them out of their neglect and ignorance on how to maintain the cash cow, apparently they think more is there, they're just too stupid to get it, not an uncommon problem with nationalized oil. Don't forget the ubiquitous democrat party mantra, "it'll take 10 years to get it out so why bother", with genius like this, who needs peak oil?

rebecca vincent said at June 23, 2009 10:08 AM:

pure and simple this carbon tax is the death knoll for america, no more jobs, no heat for your homes in winter no fan or air condioner in summer, no jobs cause they won't be able to pay the cost of there fake carbon output, were being knocked back to the dark ages. and the real pollution is in china who in no way will be paying these taxes. my question is how did we get so stupid as to allow this?

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