TCI’s bluster only amounts to gas-price hike

Cheers of joy were heard in recent days from progressive corners about the arrival of a new climate-change age with the imminent signing of the multistate Transportation and Climate Initiative, a cap-and-invest program that sets limits on vehicle emissions and mandates that fuel distributors buy permits for the carbon dioxide they generate.
However, only Massachusetts, two other New England states and Washington, D.C., opted in on this previously touted major effort to reduce transportation emissions.
Gov. Charlie Baker put Bay State taxpayers on the hook for helping pay for this controversial carbon tax initiative, praised by climate activists and panned by businesses and residents concerned with facing up to a 9-cent per gallon of gas increase.
“The revenue raised by TCI will come from the residents and businesses of participating states, not the fuel companies where the fee is applied,” the New England Convenience Store Owners and Energy Marketers Association said in a statement.
The “trailblazing” multistate TCI sets a goal of reducing motor-vehicle pollution by at least 26% and generating over $1.8 billion for climate causes in Massachusetts by 2032, according to Baker’s statement announcing the partnership on Monday.
Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides predicts the program will increase the cost of gas between 5 cents and “an absolute maximum” of 9 cents per gallon.
That projection apparently ignores a Tufts University study that projects a gas increase of 13 to 24 cents.
Only Rhode Island, Connecticut and the District of Columbia joined Massachusetts in this effort, a far cry from the dozen states that initially expressed interest.
Several key states, including New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, had considered joining, but declined to participate. New Hampshire dropped out a year ago because of the expected gas-price increases, while Vermont and Maine have raised concerns about potential costs to consumers.
According to published reports, if all 12 states had joined, the compact would have included more than 20% of the U.S. population. As it stands, it represents less than 4%.
We’re also somewhat puzzled by the governor’s decision to join this shell of a TCI.
In a GBH radio interview back in January, Baker said just raising the state gas tax wouldn’t create a reason for the auto and gas industry to address carbon emissions or greenhouse-gas emissions. “Putting a tax on something is not the same as creating a cap-and-invest program,” Baker said.
The coronavirus pandemic soon followed, which upended transportation habits due to mass business shutdowns. It drastically reduced the demand for gasoline — across the commonwealth and elsewhere.
Baker repeated his misgivings as recently as late November during a daily coronavirus update, saying, it’s “important to re-examine the assumptions” of the TCI tax based on the changing nature of transportation.
Effective vaccines over time will eventually allow employees to resume more traditional routines, but given many major corporations’ positive experiences with the current at-home work environment, commuter traffic will never return to previous levels.
So, fewer motorists will pay disproportionately higher gas prices for climate-change programs that probably are no longer needed.
The governor’s TCI commitment either demonstrates a willingness to chase windmills, or a belief that if you join it, other states will eventually come on board.
Higher gas prices are the only certainty we can see.

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