Democrats claim to be champions of the poor. Yet their environmental policies make low-income communities even poorer.
Consider California’s gas tax. Governor Gavin Newsom recently ordered his attorney general to investigate whether certain oil companies are price-gouging Californians.
That’s a little rich coming from the governor of a state with the highest gasoline tax in the country — about 62 cents per gallon (which excludes the 18.4 cent federal gas tax). The national average is about 36 cents. California’s high gas taxes, as well as its cap-and-trade program and its strict pipeline and refinery regulations, raise the cost of energy and hit poor residents harder than anyone else.
A similar story is unfolding in New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo, backed by several environmental groups, has banned shale fracking and is limiting pipeline infrastructure. These attempts to prove he’s greener-than-thou prevent New York from meeting its growing demand for natural gas.
Ironically, natural gas is one of the cleanest-burning fossil fuels. So these “green” policies don’t do much to help the environment. All they do is hurt the poor.
The fracking boom, which began about a decade ago, has made energy abundant and cheap. Consider that 10 years ago this month the price of natural gas was about $4 per million BTUs — a standard unit of measurement. Today it’s about $2.30. That price reduction has saved consumers a lot of money.
Abundant, affordable natural gas helps Americans keep their homes warm.
When politicians restrict access to natural gas, homeowners and businesses often turn to heating oil, which is much more expensive. Households that rely primarily on natural gas will spend about $580 this winter. Meanwhile, those using heating oil — which emits about a third more carbon dioxide — will spend about $1,500.
Shifting to renewable energy also hurts the poor.
Most states, whether led by Republicans or Democrats, set a minimum requirement of electricity that must come from renewable energy. For example, California’s target last year was for 28 percent of its electricity to come from renewable sources such as wind and solar power. However, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) actually produced 39 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.
At $56.40 per megawatt hour, natural gas is the cheapest energy source for producing electricity, according to the EIA. Onshore wind power isn’t that much more expensive these days — around $58.50 — partly thanks to technological improvements.
But several other renewable sources, such as offshore wind, solar and biomass — $158.10, $74.20, $96.10 per megawatt hour, respectively — are significantly more expensive. PG&E electricity rates are roughly double the national average.
Yet again, low-income Americans disproportionately bear the cost of these green mandates.
If Democrats really cared about the poor, they’d repeal all the taxes and mandates that make transportation and staying warm much more expensive.
Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas.