Intentionally increasing gasoline prices only makes sense to New York attorneys

Earlier this week, the Institute for Policy Integrity (IPI)at the New York University School of Law announced they were threatening EPA with a lawsuit to increase the price of gasoline and diesel through a cap-and-trade system. They claim they want to increase the price of transportation fuel to “address climate change,” but they omit the fact that if the United States stopped using gasoline today, it would have an incredibly minor effect on the climate.

Specifically, the faculty at New York University School of Law is petitioning EPA to implement a cap on carbon dioxide emissions from transportation fuels for cars, trucks, boats, and ships. How much will this increase the price of transportation fuels? According to a recent study by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, “Reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the transportation sector 14% below 2005 levels by 2020 may require gas prices greater than $7/gallon by 2020.”

The New York attorneys didn’t specify how where a cap should be set, so it’s possible that their plan would drive up gasoline prices beyond $7 a gallon. Seven dollar a gallon gasoline would cause great economic harm to Americans who don’t ride the New York subway to work and play, so it is important to consider the benefits of the law school’s plan.

The dean of New York University School of Law, Richard Revesz,  claims that “The benefits of protecting the public from the threats of climate change outweigh the costs.” However, he fails to describe what the benefits will be. Luckily, others have used EPA’s MAGICC climate change model and information from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to examine the impact U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have on global temperature computer models.

Climate researcher Paul Knappenberger ran EPA’s climate model and he found out that “if the U.S. as a whole stopped emitting carbon dioxide immediately, the ultimate impact on projected global temperature rise would be a reduction, or a “savings,” of approximately 0.08°C by the year 2050 and 0.17°C by the year 2100—amounts that are, for all intents and purposes, negligible.” These small temperature reductions would result only if all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions ended immediately.

The New York University School of Law professors are not talking about reducing all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, but only a part of the emissions from transportation. According to EPA, in 2010, transportation emissions were 27 percent of the U.S. total. Even if the cap proposed by the attorneys resulted in a 25 percent reduction (which means that the price of gasoline would increase well past $7 a gallon), that would only result in a reduction of 7 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. If a 100 percent reduction in carbon dioxide would result in a reduction of temperature increase of 0.08°C by the year 2050, just think of what a reduction of just 7 percent would do.

Representatives of the New York University School of Law claim that EPA should cap carbon dioxide emissions to protect the public from the dangers of climate change. But their cap would not have any discernible impact on global warming, and it would drive up the price of gasoline well past $7 a gallon. This sort of trade off might make sense if you are an rich attorney in New York City, but it sure doesn’t make any sense to the rest of us.

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