Liberal Minnesota economists suggest raising gas taxes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Two Macalester College economists took to the pages of MinnPost to discuss the Walz administration’s decision to impose deeply unpopular California car mandates on Minnesota drivers.

The professors said that these mandates don’t go far enough and that the administration should increase the taxes on gasoline if they want to “induce” people to drive less. The professors wrote:

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency justified importing California’s vehicle standards by correctly noting that, while Minnesota is making substantive progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector, it is not doing as well in transportation.

The rule is a good start, and if the policy works as intended, we will see more EVs at more attractive prices in the state. However, changing the mix of new vehicles Minnesotans buy addresses only a part of the problem.

What would be even more effective? As economists, we are contractually obligated to point out that increasing the state gas tax is our best bet to reduce transportation sector GHG emissions by inducing drivers to choose how to reduce the pollution they generate. The state could also reform its registration fee system.

Right now, state registration fees are highest for the newest and most expensive cars, which are often the least polluting vehicles on the road. But let’s be honest, raising the state’s gas tax to a level that would induce changes in driving behavior is politically untenable, and changes to vehicle registration fees seem unlikely.

The authors correctly point out that a large increase in the gas tax is politically untenable, but no sensible economist should advocating for higher energy costs. Higher energy prices are bad for low-income families who are already hurting at the pump due in part to the Biden administration’s misguided policies.

The Energy Information administration shows gas prices are increasing to levels not seen since 2014. Prices are rising because the Biden administration is throwing up roadblocks to American and Canadian oil production, and OPEC has denied President Biden’s plea to pump more oil.

Liberals used to embrace the ethos of freedom embodied in the film Easy Rider. Now, they embrace a belief in the state as a means of delivering a technocratic utopia and seek to punish anyone who does not conform to their worldview.

Unfortunately, policies like increasing the gas tax would inflict measurable harm on Minnesota families for immeasurably small reductions in temperatures because any marginal decrease in emissions here will be dwarfed by increasing emissions in China.

This may not be a problem for posh professors, but it represents a tangible decrease in the quality of life for ordinary Minnesotans.