Darrell Steinberg

Darrell Steinberg says California should junk its complex cap-and-trade system for pollution credits and replace it with a carbon tax on gasoline, diesel and other fossil fuels.

By Marc Lifsher
February 20, 2014, 6:00 p.m.

SACARAMENTO — Californians, who already pay some of the highest gasoline prices in the nation, could soon be asked to pay more.

Pump prices are likely to climb more than 12 cents per gallon starting Jan. 1, both the oil industry and environmental experts agree. That’s when the state’s complex cap-and-trade system for pollution credits expands to cover vehicle fuels and their emissions.

As a result, gasoline producers would need to buy pollution credits, and they are expected to pass the cost along at the pump.

But state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has an alternative in mind: a carbon tax of 15 cents a gallon on fuels starting next year.

“Cap and trade is about to grow in a big way,” he said Thursday in a luncheon speech. The upshot, he warned, could include “spikes and wild fluctuations in gas prices.”

Steinberg thinks that he has a better plan to create a financial incentive for cars and trucks to spew less pollutants from their tailpipes.

He wants to junk the buying and selling of credits for vehicle fuel emissions and replace them with a straightforward “carbon tax.” The tax on gasoline, diesel and other fossil fuels would be more transparent and predictable, Steinberg said.

His proposed carbon tax would be collected at the distribution point and probably passed along to wholesalers, retailers and ultimately consumers, he said.

A carbon tax would add 15 cents to the price of a gallon of gas in 2015, Steinberg said, and go up after that.

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