Gas Price Relief Shouldn’t Only Be for Drivers

NRDC stands ready to work on policies that mitigate price spikes while advancing transportation alternatives, reducing air pollution, and supporting the most vulnerable Californians.

A man boards a bus in Denver, Colorado
Credit: Credit: Lisa Mia Studios

California state leaders, like many elected officials across the country, are grappling with strategies to blunt the impact of high gas prices. Today Governor Newsom proposed $400 debit cards for every registered vehicle owner, a pause on the gas tax inflation adjustment, money for projects that promote walking and biking, fast-tracking a portion of the $10 billion for electric transportation, and providing free transit statewide for three months. This is a slight improvement from earlier announcements in that it doesn’t only relieve drivers from price spikes and includes elements to support alternatives to driving, but it should be refined to provide lasting relief in a way that supports our climate goals.

Everyone is impacted by gasoline price spikes, whether we own cars or not, since costs ripple throughout the rest of the economy through increased shipping costs of goods and materials, for example. People are struggling right now and lower-income people, who pay a disproportionate share of their income for housing and transportation, are hurting the most. Meanwhile, the oil industry is enjoying record profits and Californians have been paying a mystery gas surcharge currently estimated at 48 cents per gallon since at least 2015, costing about $4 billion a year!

We know the oil industry’s playbook in response to price spikes and we shouldn’t be fooled.

U.S. oil and gas companies have the same response to every crisis: drill more, sell more, and do everything they can to block the essential action we need to break our dependence on the destructive fuels that prop up petro states, finance endless suffering, conflict and wars, and drive the world toward climate catastrophe.

The price of petroleum is set by the global market and there’s very little that Newsom can do to affect fuel prices. The best solution to volatile gas prices is to embrace alternatives to fossil fuels and ultimately end our dependence on petroleum.

Newsom and California’s legislative leaders are on the right track in fighting climate change, and have taken significant steps to advance electric vehicles, reduce air pollution from cars and trucks, ramp up renewable energy and help our state adapt to a warming world.

But more must be done and we can’t let high gas prices and necessary relief from those prices set us back. Now is the time to double down and demonstrate for the world that we can take care of our residents’ needs without compromising our climate, equity, and environmental goals. The state should consider big investments in transit, especially in operating our transit systems which have been woefully underfunded for years. Additionally, incentives for low-income drivers to transition to more efficient vehicles and incentives for e-bikes would be better ways to target the state’s surplus. 

NRDC stands ready to work with our partners, Governor Newsom and legislative leaders on a package of policies that mitigates price spikes while advancing transportation alternatives, reducing air pollution and supporting the most vulnerable Californians. 

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