17 January, 2019
Drivers in the eastern United States may soon start paying for the pollution made by their motor vehicles.
Nine eastern states and Washington, D.C. are launching a system of pricing the carbon dioxide produced from burning gasoline and diesel fuel.
Many scientists believe that carbon dioxide and other gases released by vehicles and factories are to blame for a general warming of our planet.
Since Donald Trump became president, the federal government has eased back from efforts meant to fight climate change. But the proposal to set a price on vehicle emissions is an example of how states and cities are taking action themselves.
The plan is an idea of the Transportation and Climate Initiative, or TCI. It would likely require fuel suppliers to pay for each ton of carbon dioxide that their products produce. Drivers would likely then pay more for the fuel they buy.
In a statement, TCI said money raised by the program would be used to improve transportation systems and reduce pollution from cars, trucks and buses.
The program could raise $1.5 billion to $6 billion each year, by one estimate.
Fatima Ahmad is with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a not-for-profit group based in Washington, D.C. She said a lot can be done to modernize transportation, improve public transit and increase electric vehicles.
Reducing traffic problems is also important to lawmakers in Washington, she noted.
These investments could create an estimated 91,000 to 125,000 new jobs.
Transportation is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Some electrical power companies have cut production of carbon dioxide by moving from coal to natural gas and renewable energy, like wind or energy from the sun. But emissions from the transportation industry have been growing since 2012.
Up to now, California has been the only state to put a price on carbon emissions from transportation fuels. The state included gas and diesel in its carbon-pricing program, beginning in 2015. That program also controls carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from electrical power stations and industry.
For transportation fuels, suppliers buy carbon permits for every ton of fuel. This adds a little to fuel costs for drivers. At the current price of about $15 per ton, the program adds about half a dollar, 49 cents, to the cost of one liter of gasoline.
Stanley Young is communications director at the California Air Resources Board, which operates the program. He said the added cost is less than the difference between prices at fuel stations throughout the city.
California has raised more than $9 billion from permit sales since the program began in 2012.
That money has paid for renewable energy, mass transit, low-emissions vehicles and other investments.
To help ease costs on poor people, one-third of the money raised is directed at improving transit for poor communities.
However, California's program has not stopped vehicle carbon dioxide emissions from rising. After decreases between 2007 and 2013, greenhouse gases from vehicles have increased every year.
The state government is studying the effects of car sharing programs and self-driving cars on reducing emissions. Young said officials are also exploring ways that people can live closer to work or transit.
Hard to change
Transportation is one of the hardest sources of greenhouse gases to battle, experts say.
Unlike at power stations, transportation emissions come from millions of vehicles. And, the choices their owners make have a huge effect on how much carbon dioxide they produce.
There are generally three ways to reduce vehicle emissions, says David Bookbinder: make them more efficient, reduce the amount of carbon dioxide they produce for each unit of energy, or raise the price of fuel.
Bookbinder is from the Niskanen Center, a research and policy center in Washington.
"It's never popular to raise the price [of fuel]," he noted. Even so, he said, you have to raise the price of gasoline by a lot before it has any real effect on people's use.
France's "yellow vest" protests are one extreme reaction to raising fuel prices. And they demonstrate another risk: policies that make gas pricier can have the biggest effect on the people who can least pay for it.
One way to reduce the effect is by returning to drivers the money raised by pricing carbon. That is the method proposed by a group of Republican Party politicians. Investing in low-cost public transit is another, Bookbinder says.
Members of the Transportation and Climate Initiative will each spend a year designing their programs. The members include Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
I'm Alice Bryant.
Steve Baragona wrote this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
initiative – n. plan or program that is intended to solve a problem
transit – n. the act of moving people or things from one place to another
greenhouse gas – n. a gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and contribute to climate change
unit – n. an amount of length, time, money, etc., that is used as a standard for counting or measuring
vest – n. a sleeveless piece of clothing with buttons down the front that is worn over a shirt