By Tom Tanton and Jean Pagnone
When California makes the news, it is typically an example of what not to do. It is a state with high unemployment, out of control spending, and high taxes. Therefore it should be no surprise that California is in the news again thanks to California Air Resources Board and AB32, the Global Warming Solutions Act.
Additional revelations about ‘scientists’ fudging underlying data have surfaced and advocates for the poor are awakening to the economic devastation wrought by CARB’s implementation. Now CARB has issued a legislatively required update to its ‘scoping plan.’ Discussions have reignited about the need, the mechanism and the overall benefits of this bureaucratic attempt to do something about the weather. Most significant perhaps is the application of cap and trade rules to transportation fuels which are scheduled to go into effect January 2015. This new, permanent hidden gas tax created by CARB and implemented without legislative approval will likely cost Californians 15 cents to over a dollar more per gallon of gas, with that amount continuing to increase. That adds up to $3 to $9 billion dollars taken out of peoples’ pockets every year. This is in addition to the more than 70 cents that is already paid in state and federal gas taxes.
While soft sold as a public health measure, CARB’s implementation of AB32 harms public health. Using the EPA’s own method and data, we have calculated that the pending application of cap and trade rules to transportation fuels will lead to 340 to more than 560 premature deaths every year. This is because the loss of disposable income results in premature death, as demonstrated in numerous health studies. The number of premature deaths will increase as the tax increases in future years. These impacts will more heavily impact California’s poor and minority communities because they spend a larger portion of their disposable income on energy
CARB’s own environmental assessment of their pending regulation does not account for these premature deaths, nor the environmental injustice of disproportionately impacting the poor. An increase in energy prices causes the most problems for people with little or no money in the first place. Higher fuel prices lead to higher food prices. These increases negatively affect a family’s budget and reduce what they can spend on nutritious food or healthier lifestyle habits, while generating revenue for a state that spends with zero accountability.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “People’s wealth and health status, as measured by mortality, morbidity, and other metrics, are positively correlated. Hence, those who bear a regulation’s compliance costs may also suffer a decline in their health status (emphasis added), and if the costs are large enough, these increased risks might be greater than the direct risk-reduction benefits of the regulation.”
In other words “wealthy is healthy,” be it on individual or countrywide basis, and regulations that reduce wealth are ‘unhealthy.’ People in third world countries have much shorter life spans than people in developed countries. Important too is that fact that more free, less regulated countries have cleaner environments and healthier residents. Regulations need to provide at least a comparable level of benefit, yet AB32 is acknowledged to provide less than two-thousandths of a degree change in the climate by 2050. Is our greatest challenge really to reduce temperature rises by a fraction of a degree and zero benefit with 560 premature deaths per year?
A bill by Assemblyman Henry Perea (D-Fresno) has been introduced and has the support of 16 Democrats. This bill seeks a three-year delay in the implementation of the new rules that would increase the cost of transportation fuels. While he still supports AB32, he wants to create a public discussion, “because I’m not sure the public is aware of cap and trade and what it’s going to do to their pocketbooks,” Perea said. Despite what Perea believes, no amount of preparing the public will make this an attractive or accepted tax increase except for the well off who are detached from the reality of everyday struggles. The fact is that abundant and affordable energy is one of the best means of escaping poverty and an increase in the gas tax will only serve to further the divide between rich and poor.
The real test will be if Jerry Brown and the rest of the California legislature will stand up to CARB and its hidden taxation of the public. New regulations imposed by CARB will only further erode the economic gains once enjoyed by the state. It’s time that we demand that CARB end its all pain, no gain regulations on the good people of California.
Tom Tanton is Director of Science and Technology for the Energy and Environment Legal Institute. Jean Pagnone is an energy consumer advocate.