Commentary: Transitioning to cleaner energy is the best way to reduce the impact of rising gas prices
Gas prices continue to skyrocket for Orange County residents with no end in sight. This week, the average cost per gallon hit an all-time high of $5.97 here in Orange County. There are many reasons why prices are rising at the pump – including Putin’s war in Ukraine, supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic, corporate greed by those raising prices and abusing consumers and the 51-cent gasoline tax in California.
That’s why I’ve asked my colleagues on the Orange Board of Supervisors to join me in calling on Governor Gavin Newsom and the state legislature to either give taxpayers a refund or suspend the tax on gasoline for a year, as long as this loss of revenue is made up from the state budget surplus so that we can continue to fund much-needed infrastructure. We eventually agreed on some issues, but some of my colleagues disagreed with the idea of a tax refund, citing concerns that those who do not pay tax directly shouldn’t get a break. Some also disagreed with suspending the gasoline tax for a year, saying six months was more than enough.
I strongly disagreed, as do many Republicans and Democrats in the state capitol who argue for a tax refund. When the price of gas goes up, the cost of goods and services goes up for all of us. The cost of doing business is rising. The cost of public transport is increasing. The cost of groceries is rising and we are all affected. The more we can do to give taxpayers their money back at times like this, the better.
While suspending the gas tax or offering an equivalent rebate will not completely address the blight of ever-rising gas prices, it is essential that we provide respite to families across the county. Orange who are struggling to pay for gas during this difficult time.
To truly reduce the burden of rising pump prices and protect our way of life that has been threatened by the recent oil spill off our coast, we need long-term planning to wean ourselves off oil. and switch to clean and cheaper energy resources.
In Orange County, we need to work with the private sector and energy providers to add new solar-powered electric vehicle charging stations, which will make electric vehicle ownership more accessible and allow families to save money on gasoline. Charging an electric vehicle can costs less than $10, compared to tank-ups that now cost up to $100 or more, but there is still a lack of access in the workplace, in public spaces and at home. The market tells us that electric vehicles are becoming a better economic option. We must listen.
Every Orange County resident deserves the ability to walk or bike to work or school, instead of driving. Many of our streets remain dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. In 2020 alone, Orange County saw nearly 500 pedestrians injured and 50 dead. From 2016 to 2020, more than 4,000 bicycle collisions have occurred and 75 cyclists have died in our county. This is an unacceptable record and we must do better.
As a former city councilman and mayor of Costa Mesa, I started an active transportation plan, and now, as county supervisor and director of the Orange County Transportation Authority, I’m working on adding miles of new protected bike paths and walking paths so residents can get around easily and safely. Our dirty and underutilized flood channels remain an untapped resource for this effort, as long as we also invest public safety resources to patrol these areas. Bike lanes and walking paths will make our streets safer and increase foot traffic, which will reduce crime and benefit small businesses. Providing residents with safe and reliable alternatives to driving will reduce oil dependence, gas expenses and traffic congestion.
Modernizing our public transportation system is essential as our country transitions from oil dependence to sustainable technology. At OCTA, we have invested in 10 rechargeable battery electric buses and an equal number of hydrogen fuel cell electric buses in our fleet, with the goal of 100% zero emissions technology by 2040.
These simple and widely popular solutions reduce the impact of exorbitant gas costs on Orange County residents – both during this crisis and in the future – and improve the quality of life for our residents.
Former Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley represents the Second District on the Orange County Board of Supervisors and is director of the Orange County Transportation Authority.
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