A Farewell to August: Tax Private Jets!

Enemy Of The Planet
Enemy Of The Planet

For Dan, Labor Day means thinking about Labor.  For me, it means thinking about the horrific traffic that Cape Cod summer residents face on their way back to wherever.  Or rather, it means thinking about the ridiculous mode of transportation the some friends of mine used to avoid that traffic.

My friends work for a fancy hedge fund in New Jersey.  So how did they get to the Cape for their vacation?  By private jet — what else?

As I told one of them, “As your friend, I’m delighted.  As someone who cares about the future of the planet, I’m appalled.”

Air traffic produces massive amounts of carbon emissions — something that climate deniers gleefully point out when discussing international climate conferences that require global participation, and something that has caused a brewing conflict between the United States and the European Union (about which the United States is wrong, by the way). But we can’t be in the business of foregoing air travel, can we?

Well, some of us can.  As convenient as it might be, private jets seem to be a particularly egregious waste of global atmospheric resources — particularly private jets flying from New Jersey to the Cape.  One could, of course, say that that’s the point of a carbon tax.  But carbon taxes will never pass.

So what should the law say?  Here’s a modest proposal:

All private jets must either purchase complete carbon offsets or pay a tax in lieu of purchasing offsets.

Let’s see the Republicans fight that one.  Note that even if you didn’t call it a tax, this would be precisely the form of regulation upheld by the Supreme Court in the health care cases.

In the heaven of legal concepts, this might not be the most theoretically efficient way to regulate carbon emissions.  But since the Republican Party has decided to block any more efficient alternatives, advocates for stronger climate policy need to find particularly ripe political targets for regulation.  Private jets would seem to be one of them.

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Reader Comments

4 Replies to “A Farewell to August: Tax Private Jets!”

  1. Jonathan said:
    “…Air traffic produces massive amounts of carbon emissions – something that climate deniers gleefully point out…”

    Dear Jonathan,
    Another thing that we gleefully point out is how the Obama Administration has done a double back-flip on climate policy. Anyone who follows climate policy would not be surprised by the President’s actions towards Syria.

  2. As long as we are thinking about taxing carbon intensive activities with low social utility how about adding to (or substituting for) “private jets” in this proposal “vehicles used in automobile racing and off-road recreation” and/or “recreational boats?”

  3. @John Bowers — I would be more reluctant in that case. There are a lot more ORV and recreational boat users than private jet users. And the ORV and boaters aren’t in the Top .1% like the private jet folks. Put another way, I am very reluctant to tell all of those folks that their activities have low social utility. But I see your point.

  4. Dear Jonathan,
    It may be helpful and far more persuasive if climate mitigation advocates set an example for other people to follow by taking affirmative action in your personal life to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Park your car, turn off your lights, take cold showers, eat raw vegetables, stay home. adapt, live the type of lifestyle that you ask of others. Try to be honest in how you live and don’t be a hypocrite in public.

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About Jonathan

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic – Land Use, the Environment and Loc…

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