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Co-chairmen of the Deficit Reduction Committee, Erskine Bowles and Alan K. Simpson, announced a polarizing plan of spending cuts and tax increases last month. Especially divisive was their outline of a 15 cent gas tax raise to be implemented gradually between 2013-2015.

A gas tax is a viable solution for the nation’s energy crises – if it costs more, we’ll buy less. The tax will make us think twice before getting in our cars instead of biking, walking or public-transporting to where we have to go.

But 15 cents is not an enormous hike. It’s so measly that consumers may not even notice it’s there. Which is, of course, the point of Bowles’ and Simpson’s plan.

They don’t want consumers to change their gas-guzzling behavior. The 15 cents will not deter the majority of drivers form their regular habits, but it will ensure a steady flow of extra tax money into the government. This isn’t about conservation; it’s about lowering the deficit.

But even with that extra money, it won’t nearly be enough to make a dent in our astronomical debt. While we do need to remedy the deficit problem, a gas tax won’t do it.

What a gas tax can do, however, is effectively push a green standard of driving. It would be much more successful than CAFE standards, as a tax raise would hit the consumer directly. Hike up the price to $1 or even $2 and there will certainly be a change in how we drive.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that we drive less. If gas costs more, there will be more incentive to buy hybrids and EV’s, and also fuel efficient products like nitrogen inflation and green air filters.

In order to allow Congress to pass anything close to a significant tax raise, voters have to change their mind about what a gas tax all about and what it can do. It’s a way of pushing us towards fuel efficiency, and not just a way of forking over more money to the government. And if we change our behavior (e.g. products that can tweek fuel savings, taking public transportation) we won’t cost us any more money – we just simply won’t be using so much gas.

Earthgarage – Greener Car. Fatter Wallet.