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Americans and their Wheels: A Tax Policy for Sustainable Mobility

Mona L. Hymel

University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law

Beth S. Wolfsong

Multnomah County Circuit Court

Arizona Legal Studies Discussion Paper No. 06-15
Critical Issues in Environmental Taxation III, 2006

Economists, lawyers, environmentalists and other policy makers and scholars have written extensively about the use and benefits of economic instruments, such as taxes, to affect behavior that harms the environment. Tax incentives and subsidies have long played a key role in the development of fossil fuels, and lately, the development of alternative energy technologies. Many scholars have also observed the social and cultural transformation that the United States (and the world) has experienced as a result of the technologies that energy has afforded us. This paper draws on economic and social research to advocate for the development of tax policies that encourage change - change that addresses the destructive environmental realities of continued and increasing fossil fuel usage. New policies, however, can not ignore who Americans are, and how we like to live and travel. Thus, in developing environmentally friendly tax policies, we must take into account, not only the economic impact but the social impact of such tax policies and other laws and policies that influence behavior.

The analysis begins with a comparative analysis of the United States' investment in non-renewable energy technologies (specifically fossil fuels) versus renewable energy technologies. Through an historical analysis of federal tax incentives and subsidies to the energy industry, the paper illustrates the need to provide significant investment in renewable energy technology if we are ever to achieve a sustainable mobile society. This historical analysis is not only about tax laws, but also about the corresponding social changes of the time. Combining legal, economic and social history of our romance with fossil fuels provides a richer understanding of the problems associated with our dependence on fossil fuels and deeper insight into how we might successfully move toward change.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 28

Keywords: Tax, tax incentives, tax subsidies, renewable energy technology, fossil fuels

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Date posted: February 9, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Hymel, Mona L. and Wolfsong, Beth S., Americans and their Wheels: A Tax Policy for Sustainable Mobility. Critical Issues in Environmental Taxation III, 2006; Critical Issues in Environmental Taxation III, 2006. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=882144

Contact Information

Mona L. Hymel (Contact Author)
University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law ( email )
P.O. Box 210176
2106 Speedway Blvd.
Tucson, AZ 85721-0176
United States
520-621-3838 (Phone)
520-621-9140 (Fax)
Beth S. Wolfsong
Multnomah County Circuit Court ( email )
1021 S.W. Fourth Avenue, Courtroom 734
Portland, OR 97204-1123
United States
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