Saturday, April 5, 2008

More Stupidity from Sacramento and DC

This posting has nothing to do with Obama or any campaign. It's about something that annoys me on a nearly constant basis.

Our representatives are either stupid or dishonest when it comes to energy policy. Here's the latest example.

The state legislature (Sacramento) is talking about raising the annual registration fees of cars that get poor gas mileage. The alleged purpose of this is to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. It's a ridiculous idea.

To explain why it's so stupid, I'll first ask a very simple question: which vehicle uses more gas, my 1991 Suburban (with 35 inch tires no less) or my neighbor's Prius?

Sounds like a trick question doesn't it? No, it's not an electric Suburban or a Prius Monster Truck. So, either you know me, or you're going to guess (wrong probably), because I haven't given you enough information to answer the question.

That specific Prius uses many times more gas that specific Suburban. Because I drive the Suburban maybe 200 miles per month. The Prius gets driven every day, probably 18k to 20k miles per year. Raising the taxes on the Suburban would not cause a reduction of greenhouse gases. Raising the taxes on the Prius would also NOT cause a reduction in greenhouse gases.

Nothing that penalizes ownership of the car will reduce gas usage. People will just suck it up, pay the extra tax, and keep on using their cars because they have to have a car.

There is ONE simple way to reduce gasoline usage in this or any country. We all know what it is. Raise the price of gasoline! Tax the hell out of it. Make it cost $5.00 per gallon. At least!

We know this works because every time gas prices go way up, gas sales go down (slightly at first).

The biggest problem is that simply raising the price of gas will immediately hurt the working poor the most. The easiest and simplest way to fix that would be to reduce general sales taxes. An offsetting reduction in sales tax is as progressive as an increase in gas tax is regressive. And since sales tax in California is already pretty high, there should be enough room to reduce it and offset the increased as tax. But if there isn't enough room in the sales tax, simply mail rebate checks (equal amounts to every resident).

Of course, there will be whining, I mean objections:

"But Brian", you say, "what's the point of raising one tax just to lower a different tax, netting the no increase in state tax revenue?" The point of this proposal is not to increase the amount of money to the state, but to reduce gas usage. We all know how upset people get about putting $50 in their gas tank. What happens when that turns into $100? $150? I'll tell you - I put $100 into my Suburban a few months ago, it almost made me cry - why do you think I drive the damn thing so infrequently?

"But, I only have one car, and it gets 13 miles per gallon and I live 70 miles from my job. What will I do?" I don't know. Maybe you'll move. Maybe you'll sell your gas guzzler and buy a 91 Geo Metro (45 miles per gallon - 50+ on the highway). Maybe you'll get a job closer to home. Whatever you do, I bet you'll use less gas (and therefore put less CO2 into the atmosphere).

"But Brian, that Berkeley weirdo who rides his bike to work and doesn't even have a car will get the sales tax cut without having to pay any extra gas tax." Yup. And maybe more people will take his example and simultaneously get in shape while NOT using gas. Or maybe they'll just drive less, or car pool, or telecommute, or do what they need to do to make due.

"But Brian, rich people will still drive gas guzzlers while the rest of us have to ride our bikes and walk." Yup. Rich people will always have it better than the rest of us. I wish I were rich. And if I were, I'd probably drive a Porsche 911 Turbo, which gets really shitty gas mileage. And I'd drive it for the hell of it because if I were rich, I wouldn't have a job. But so what, there are only but so many rich people, and what they do has a much smaller impact than what the other 99% of us do.

I almost want to scream at the TV when some talking head spews on and on about how much CO2 this or that car generates. It's crap. Say it with me people: cars do NOT generate CO2, burning gasoline does.

Our politicians know this, but they are too damn spineless to tell us what we need to hear. To sooner we make it clear to everyone in this country that energy that releases CO2 is expensive and is going quickly get much more expensive, the sooner we will stop using so damn much of it. It's not rocket science. It's actually very simple. Make it expensive and two very cool things happen.

1 - we use less of it.
2 - we develop substitutes for it.

Since it's so damn simple, why aren't are leaders saying it? Barack, are you listening?

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