Making Clean Air Costly

The Arkansas legislature is doing its best to look backward rather than forward. Just this year the transportation sector in the United States became the major source contributing to global warming and the changes to the climate it induces. At the same time, a clear majority of Americans including Arkansans believe global warming is real, is caused by humans, and is especially threatening to future generations.

Logic should suggest then that changes to our transportation systems here in Arkansas should take account of this risk and do the right thing. Modes of transportation which don’t contribute to global warming should be favored over those that do. Right?

The new law for funding for highways in Arkansas raises fuel taxes to help pay for construction and maintenance of our highway system. For gasoline, the state tax will go from 20.8 cents a gallon to 23.8 cents a gallon, a 3 cent per gallon rise. The diesel fuel tax will rise by 6 cents a gallon.

It will raise 100s of millions of dollars a year. Ironically it will also reduce highway use at least in principle – the more gas costs, the less gas is used. Less gasoline use means a lower contribution to global warming which is a good thing. Lower gasoline use also means cleaner air, less volatile organic carbon emitted, and less ozone formed. Also a good thing.

At the same time, the bill taxes electric vehicles that don’t contribute to global warming and negative health effects from tailpipe emissions. As they don’t use gasoline or diesel, the “tax” will be assessed via a greater registration fee: 200 dollar increase per pure electric vehicle, and 100 dollars per plug-in hybrid . On the surface, this seems fair as these electric cars use and therefore abuse the highways and need to pay their fair share. But is this taxation rate fair?

The average Arkansas vehicle travels about 15,000 miles per year. At an average mileage, this works out to a tax rate significantly lower than that assessed on electric vehicles. The tax assessment plan will literally punish efficiency. It will make the purchase of electric vehicles less attractive. In so doing, this will increase, not decrease damage due our shared climate. Does the legislature really want to make our children’s future more grim?

Quite simply gasoline and diesel powered vehicles contribute to global warming, electric vehicles don’t. As a society, we need to consider the climate with every decision we make, at least if we care about our children’s future. We need to promote clean energy systems at the expense of those systems and processes that contribute to global warming.

Dr. Bob Allen, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Arkansas Tech University.

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