In an era when disagreement looms large on a variety of issues, surely all of us agree on the importance of protecting our environment. We breathe the same air, drink the same water — and many of us are bequeathing the same Earth to our children.
But as we legislate and regulate, it is important to be smart. Are the measures we put in place achieving anything, and what costs do they impose on our democracy and economic well-being? That is where SB 1145 — a newer, uglier incarnation of the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) gas tax — turns out to be the modern version of prehistoric sacrifices intended to save lives by appeasing climate gods. Although motivated with noble intentions, it is counterproductive and needlessly destructive.
The bill would authorize the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection not only to set new, stricter limits for greenhouse gas emissions across a broad range of economic sectors (including home heating and cooling), but to also join programs that place new taxes on gas and other fuels. In other words, the DEEP commissioner could raise your fuel taxes without a vote of the state legislature.
SB 1145 provides a loophole for an unelected bureaucrat to implement potentially endless tax increases — without any input from our elected representatives. This would effectively bypass our country’s bedrock principle of “no taxation without representation,” and subvert the democratic process in setting tax policy in the future.
The bill also empowers the DEEP commissioner to enter compacts like the Transportation Climate Initiative with other states or even Canadian provinces without any vote of the state legislature. This circumvents the democratic process and may be a violation of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.
SB 1145 likewise permits DEEP to implement “market-based compliance mechanisms” without any vote. That is politician-speak for “cap-and-trade” (or carbon taxes). Not only are these programs regressive, disproportionately hurting our low-income and senior residents, they are guaranteed to make Connecticut even less affordable.
In California, the cap-and-trade regime can raise the cost of gasoline by as much as 72 cents per gallon. Those costs make everything else shipped using fuel, including food and other necessities, more expensive — exacerbating an already existing inflation crisis. There is no reason to believe the outcome would be any different here in Connecticut.
SB 1145’s proponents are asking a great deal of us. We are expected to surrender any ability to control future fuel tax increases through the democratic process. We are asked to endure higher fuel costs (and continued inflation), or else submit to an eroding quality of life where we are hotter in the summer and colder in the winter. And as we make fuel more expensive in Connecticut, we make our business climate less competitive, and incentivize residents to flee to other, less expensive states.
What do we gain in return? Proponents offer few specific benefits that will accrue to Connecticut from the bill — only vague assurances that our state will be better positioned to meet environmental targets set for future years.
But any theoretical benefits accruing from SB 1145 will be completely offset by developments elsewhere. China’s carbon emissions constitute almost 30% of the global total, nearly double that of the U.S. and Europe combined (at 17%). Yet it is building six times more new coal plants than other countries — the equivalent of two coal plants per week. The United States broadly, and Connecticut specifically, has been reducing overall carbon emissions since the turn of the millennium. For all the pain it will inflict here in the Constitution State, SB 1145 will not move the carbon needle a millimeter.
So rather than kneecapping Connecticut’s democracy, undermining its economy and eroding its quality of life by passing SB 1145, let us be smart. If there is to be sacrifice, it must be borne equally by the United States and its global adversaries. And let us emphasize development of new technology, rather than depriving Americans in general — and Connecticut residents in particular — of a decent economy and a quality living standard.
Any other course is simply an empty sacrifice to graven climate gods.
Carol Platt Liebau is president of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and is a graduate of both Harvard Law School and Princeton University.
This article originally appeared in the Hartford Courant.