Kudos to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for passing a 5-cent fee on single-use plastic bags. Free plastic bags are anything but free: Carried on the wind out of trash containers and trucks, they cost us dearly in contamination of drinking water, ecosystem damage and unsightly litter.
Taxes on plastic bags have succeeded in reducing their use in other jurisdictions. A study published in 2018 found the percentage of shoppers using plastic bags dropped from 82 percent to 40 percent in Montgomery County, Md., after a 5-cent bag fee was enacted. That small price signal was enough to shift people’s behavior.
A price signal can be used to reduce another source of pollution: fossil fuels. While coal, oil and natural gas aren’t free, they are dangerously cheap. The summer’s deadly heat, flooding and wildfires were a vivid illustration of how we pay the price for carbon pollution even if that cost isn’t reflected in our energy bills or at the gas pump.
A carbon tax would firmly nudge the U.S. economy toward improved efficiency and renewable energy the same way the plastic bag tax will nudge our community toward reusable bags. Just as the county will use some of the bag tax proceeds to pay for reusable bags for recipients of food assistance, money from a carbon tax can be used for rebates or other programs to offset any hardship for low-income Americans from higher fossil fuel costs.
Senate Democrats are considering a carbon tax as part of the budget reconciliation package currently being negotiated. I urge everyone who cares about preserving a livable planet to add your voice in support of a carbon tax at cclusa.org/white-house.
Fairfax County Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby