Would You Pay $4 More Per Gallon of Gas to Cover the Environmental Damage?

Americans have been celebrating lower gas prices for the past several months. Though it’s hard to blame families for relishing the opportunity to save some money, making something as harmful as gas more affordable isn’t necessarily something worth applauding. Is gas too cheap? Better yet, should the government levy a tax on gasoline purchases to tackle some of the resulting environmental problems?

These are questions that plagued Drew Shindell, a professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. To better answer these quandaries, he decided to calculate just how much a gallon of gas should cost given how much health and environment damage it does. Altogether, Shindell has found that gas prices would need to increase by $3.80.

Obviously, there’s a lot of different ways a person could calculate the “true” cost of gas, which is why the Duke researcher started out with the U.S. government’s own figures from 2010 on the long-term costs of carbon emissions.  Shindell then added costs from other research studies like health costs stemming from pollution, missed work days from illnesses, and insurance claims related to extreme weather events.

Although Shindell calls $3.80 a “conservative” estimate, it’s unlikely that most consumers would view it that way. Currently, gas doesn’t even cost that much in general, so if the government were to more than double the price at the pumps with a tax to recuperate health and environmental costs, it’s hard to imagine that Americans would support the change.

As an environmentalist, even I don’t know that I would support this increase. On the one hand, I think it’s important to acknowledge what gas really costs and that tacking on a tax is a good way to demonstrate to people the extent of the problem. On the other hand, I understand that there are plenty of Americans who rely on their cars to get to their low wage jobs that couldn’t get by having to pay twice as much for gasoline. Increased gas prices might be a good motivation to get people to use public transportation or reduce their commute distances, but not everyone has these luxuries available to them.

While an immediate jump to $3.80 would be hard to support, some middle ground could be appropriate. We are recklessly using a metaphorical credit card to rack up a hefty bill and expecting our grandchildren to pay for it on our behalves decades later. The one thing that might wake us up to the reality of our actions is to hit us where it hurts: our wallets. It would also finally put to rest the bogus idea that renewable energy sources are “too expensive” because – when all factors and consequences are considered – solar and wind energy is the cheaper way to go.

Perhaps Shindell puts it best: “There is room for ongoing discussion about what the value of atmospheric emissions should be, but one thing there should be no debate over is that the current assigned price of ‘zero’ is not the right value.”

Do you support adding an environmental/health tax to gas? If so, what do you think a reasonable tax would be? Sound off in the comments section below.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Mike Kelly
Mike K3 years ago

With the exception of Marvin the Martian, AKA Dan B., anyone who is paying attention knows that 40% of the price of crude oil is caused by Wall St. and the oil billionaires driving up the prices for profit.

"Even those inside the oil industry have admitted that speculation is driving up the price of gasoline. The CEO of Exxon-Mobil, Rex Tillerson, told a Senate hearing last year that speculation was driving up the price of a barrel of oil by as much as 40%. The general counsel of Delta Airlines, Ben Hirst, and the experts at Goldman Sachs also said excessive speculation is causing oil prices to spike by up to 40%. Even Saudi Arabia, the largest exporter of oil in the world, told the Bush administration back in 2008, during the last major spike in oil prices, that speculation was responsible for about $40 of a barrel of oil." - CNN


Mike Kelly
Mike K3 years ago

The owners of the republican party, Charles and David Koch, drive up the price at the pump in a different manner. They lease supertankers, fill them up with crude oil and anchor them offshore while pretending that there is a shortage of crude. When the fake shortage has inflated the price at the pump sufficiently, the two pampered-ass, doughy billionaires suddenly release the oil they've been hoarding, and screw over struggling American families.


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

The American tax bill is too high! For every tax payer! Even businesses and corporations! Washington needs to like all of us do and tighten their belts! They need to live on a budget just like everyone else! CUT SPENDING!

Warren Webber
Warren Webber3 years ago

Live long and prosper!

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm3 years ago

And now we have such a glut of Oil we are quickly running out of places to store it.
JUst smh

Gerald L.
Gerald L3 years ago

Dan in response to Ruth. In 2002 we were building Scrubbers at the Coal Fired Power facility in Monroe Michigan. The large steel sheets were made in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario at Algoma Steel, the only steel mill rolling plate that large in North America..

By a chance meeting of their construction co-ordinator he was embarrassed that their environmental initiative that year was paving a parking lot. Regulators are quite lax in requiring Industry to Install Pollution Abatement Equipment.

Re: Dan B. @ 4:18am PDT on Mar 17, 2015
Ruth G.,
You are correct in that most of that price is tax. Whether it actually goes towards environmental concerns, well ...

Business Insider - 7 hours ago
On Tuesday afternoon in New York, the price of West Texas Intermediate crude
oil crashed further below $43 a barrel, a new six-year low for ...

Environmental Abatement Initiatives will be last priority, unless they whine government and get Grants for Projects, as is quite common in Canada with the Pulp & Paper Industry.

Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld3 years ago

Ruth G.,
You are correct in that most of that price is tax. Whether it actually goes towards environmental concerns, well ...

Anne F.
Anne F3 years ago

Raise taxes on BIG OIL the companies themselves - make them pay for inspectors, regulators, and mitigators

Ruth G.
Ruth G3 years ago

why not! the uk has been paying a bom for petrol for decades & taking it on the chin. we were on £1.30 to £1.40 A LITRE! now down to £1.17 a litre or thereabouts. A lot of it is tax & is hopefully going on environmental concerns!