So let's say somebody invented a new kind of car that runs entirely on water. It's an expensive new technology, so these water-fueled cars cost a bit more than their gasoline-fueled cousins, and they don't go quite as far on a full tank. But they produce zero greenhouse gas emissions, and, well, they run on fucking water! Amazing!
You'd think, what with Antarctica warming even faster than the most dire projections, if this miraculous water-fueled car existed, our lawmakers would do everything they could to incentivize its widespread adoption, right? Subsidies, tax credits, whatever it takes. Well, you'd think wrong.
In fact, this water-fueled car does exist, sorta, at least here in Washington, where all-electric vehicles are fueled predominantly by clean, green hydro power—92.39% hydro for Seattle City Light customers—and yet, rather than incentivizing their use, our legislature last session passed a bill charging all-electric vehicle owners a $100 annual fee to make up for lost gas tax revenues. Which, I gotta say, is just plain stupid.
Yes, the gas tax pays for road maintenance, and yes, electric cars use the roads like everybody else. But they don't generate the same sort of external costs as their gas-fueled cousins, and with only about 1,600 of them currently registered in the state, the additional revenue is barely worth the effort of collecting it. It's just hard to see the value of levying this particular fee at this particular time.
And it's also hard to see this as anything but a missed opportunity to reconsider our whole antiquated and regressive system of financing road construction and maintenance. If the goal is to make electric car owners pay their fair share, then we should scrap our current gas tax and car tabs, and replace them with an annual fee based on a combination of mileage and vehicle weight, a much more accurate measure of the wear and tear each driver exacts on our roads.
That would be the more creative, progressive, and farsighted approach to the question of how to fund our highway system in this era of rising fuel economy.
Instead, we punted on the larger issue and just imposed an arbitrary $100 a year per electric car, a number that appears to be based on absolutely nothing (drive your electric car 4,000 miles a year or 40,000, and you pay the same fee) and that amounts to little more than a fuel economy tax.