Would drivers in New Jersey stomach a new gas tax?

The Transportation and Climate Initiative, a regional collaboration of several states including, is pushing a plan to cut carbon emissions, reduce pollution and expand the use of clean energy in transportation.

TCI is releasing a memorandum of understanding by the end of this month that calls for 12 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia to agree to adopt a "cap and invest" system.

The system would force gasoline and diesel fuel companies to essentially pay a type of tax for the pollution their product creates. The money raised — an estimated $3 billion a year — would go to improving transportation.

The plan calls for a multi-state auction “and anybody who is producing and selling gasoline that is used in transportation would need to buy credits to actually sell that gasoline, so there would be an absolute (carbon emissions) cap set and then you would buy allowances up to that cap," explained Nick Sifuentes, the executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

The cost of buying gasoline credits would likely be passed onto the consumer.

“It could be anywhere from 5 cents a gallon, as high as 17 cents a gallon on the most aggressive estimates that they’ve produced today," Sifuentes said.

Filling up a 10 to 12-gallon tank would cost up to $2 additionally or as little as 50 cents.

He said if people are worried about spending extra money at the pump, some states could offer additional subsidies to buy electric vehicles.

To convince New Jerseyans that raising prices at the pump to fix our transportation system is a good idea, he said we must acknowledge that gasoline creates pollution.

“We know climate change is happening, and we know that clearly for human health and our environment we need to make that transition, we need to do it pretty quickly," he said.

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He noted everyone seems to agree that fixing NJ Transit is a top priority, so revenue generated by this cap-and-invest system could be dedicated directly for NJ Transit.

“Problems will start to get better because you won’t have train cancellations because you’ll have enough operators on the trains. You won’t have train cancellations because they’re breaking down because we can afford new rail cars to replace the aging fleet," he said.

Sifuentes said the agreement would likely require the go-ahead from New Jersey’s governor as well as the Legislature.

It would be up to voters to hold officials accountable for spending the funds on improving mass transit. But Sifuentes also suggested a constitutional amendment requiring all funds generated to be used to improve rail and bus service while expanding clean energy.

The participating states in the TCI are New Jersey as well as Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.

The plan is for states to agree to the MOU by the end of 2020, and then implementation of the finalized plan could begin in 2021 and things could be up and running by 2022.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com