In the Northeast, a coalition of state leaders has been working for several years to figure out a way to turn the corner and begin cutting transport emissions. The idea is to mandate that fuel wholesalers buy permits for the emissions that their products create, then establish a marketplace where those permits can be bought and sold. That market would set the price of permits, and the wholesalers would then have to decide how much of the increased cost of their operations to pass along at the pump.
The gasoline price increase would depend on how ambitious the states decide to be with their emissions cuts, which is one aspect of the plan that has not been fully decided. But the likelihood is that they will start modestly, leading to a price increase of below 10 cents a gallon, less than gas prices typically vary over the course of a year.
Americans burn so much gasoline that even a pass-along price increase that small would raise billions of dollars a year in the Northeast. It would likely give many of the states five times as much money as they have now to spend on clean transportation.
The money would go to measures that directly cut emissions. Improvements in mass transit systems, to lure people out of their cars, would be a major goal. Another would be helping people who must drive switch to electric cars, through rebates and the installation of chargers along the highways. Some states even intend to invest in fast internet access for rural areas, on the logic that people could work from home some days, as many city dwellers already do, and stay off the roads.
By design, the plan resembles a similar approach the Northeastern states took to cutting emissions from power plants. That plan, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, has been a big success. The new one, the Transportation and Climate Initiative, is meant to test whether this approach will work with vehicle emissions. In most states, legislatures would have to approve the proposal.
The Koch network’s disinformation campaign has already claimed one victory. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican with a poor record on climate initiatives, pulled his state out of the discussions, declaring as he did so: “I will not force Granite Staters to pay more for their gas just to subsidize other states’ crumbling infrastructure.”
The premise of that statement is a lie. The governor surely knows that a core feature of the plan is that each state would get to keep the money it raises, deciding its own investment priorities. Will other governors reject this kind of demagogy to embrace a good-sense plan?