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Tax climate polluters, not working class drivers | READER COMMENTARY

In this Thursday, July 29, 2021 file photo, birds fly over a man taking photos of the exposed riverbed of the Old Parana River, a tributary of the Parana River during a drought in Rosario, Argentina. Parana River Basin and its related aquifers provide potable water to close to 40 million people in South America, and according to environmentalists the falling water levels of the river are due to climate change, diminishing rainfall, deforestation and the advance of agriculture. (AP Photo/Victor Caivano, File)
In this Thursday, July 29, 2021 file photo, birds fly over a man taking photos of the exposed riverbed of the Old Parana River, a tributary of the Parana River during a drought in Rosario, Argentina. Parana River Basin and its related aquifers provide potable water to close to 40 million people in South America, and according to environmentalists the falling water levels of the river are due to climate change, diminishing rainfall, deforestation and the advance of agriculture. (AP Photo/Victor Caivano, File) (Victor Caivano/AP)

I strongly agree with The Sun’s editorial encouraging Congress to pass legislation requiring the oil and gas industries to invest in mitigating some of the costs of climate change they caused in the first place (“The best way to tax polluters, fight climate change, and reduce the deficit: Raise the federal gas tax,” Aug. 9).

However, raising the gas tax on consumers should no longer be considered part of the remedy. In an era when income inequality is at an all-time high, with the legacy of structural racism contributing to lower earnings and savings among Black and brown citizens, raising prices at the pump will disproportionately burden those who can least afford the increase.

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The argument that paying more at the pump will incentive consumers to switch to electric vehicles is specious. Electric cars and trucks are premium priced — well beyond the reach of working-class Americans. Moreover, there are other ways to incentivize switching to electric vehicles without punishing those owning gas-powered vehicles. Continuing to subsidize rebates on electric-car sticker prices and charging stations is one approach. That’s a carrot without a stick, at least.

On a related matter, conservative policymakers’ continued support for public-private partnerships (so-called P3s) as a means of underwriting new road construction in Maryland and elsewhere also bites the consumer in the you-know-where. For example, as The Sun noted elsewhere, the private operation of proposed new toll lanes along I-270 and I-495 would likely result in exorbitant new tolls (as high as $50, The Sun reports). Adding insult to injury, drivers who choose not to patronize these toll roads — or cannot afford to do so on a daily basis — would be squeezed into overcrowded non-toll lanes.

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This country desperately needs enlightened transportation policies and investments that work for everyone, including the millions living paycheck to paycheck who appreciate safe, efficient roads, reliable public transit and strategies to combat climate change. We have yet to implement policies that require the super-rich to pay their fair share for any of this. Let’s start there.

Amy L. Bernstein, Baltimore

The writer is a former senior communications officer with the Federal Transit Administration.

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