"California’s cap-and-trade system currently affects only industrial plants – but next year, it’s set to expand to vehicle fuels too. Now, Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) says he wants to exempt those fuels from cap-and-trade – and implement a carbon tax instead," writes Ben Adler. [Also on audio].
In essence, the decision is whether to charge consumers at the pump or have refineries participate in a carbon auction, and pass on the added costs to consumers. "Steinberg hopes that a straightforward carbon tax would be better received by consumers than the complicated cap-and-trade pricing mechanism," writes Marc Lifsher in the Los Angeles Times.
The proposal doesn't seem to be going over well - with some fellow Democrats and environmentalists.
Another way the carbon tax would deviate from cap-and-trade would be how it distributes the revenue. Rather than combining auction revenues from refineries with other Cap-and-Trade Auction Proceeds, it would "(r)eturn two-thirds of the Carbon Tax revenues to poor and middle-income Californians through a state Earned Income Tax Credit for families making less than $75,000 per year," wrote Steinberg in his press release.
Interestingly, the oil industry that has fought gasoline and oil royalty taxes in the past, is neutral, writes Adler, "but business groups don’t like the proposal. They argue companies and consumers would pay more at the pump."
In fact, Steinberg acknowledges gas prices will go up regardless – under cap-and-trade or a carbon tax. “And it may not be popular to say, but that’s necessary. Higher prices discourage demand.”