Environment policy with new ideas instead of uninspired tax raises


So Andrä Rupprechter wants to reduce Austria’s per capita emissions. But personally, I find his proposals to be short on ideas for one thing, and illusory for another.

The per-capita emissions of a country as such, are already a questionable scale. Of course, Austria’s record is worse than others’, seeing how every car and truck driver, if at all possible, will deliberately enter Austria with an empty tank and emigrate with a full one, since the fuel prices in Austria are cheaper than elsewhere.

But no matter where the fuel is tanked, from a global perspective, the same amount is consumed. With a tax increase on diesel, the Environment Minister will only scare away the customers from local service stations, thus succeeding merely in stopping any additional revenue for Austria’s gas stations and service stations, which usually goes along with the tank fill, and all just for the purpose of making the purely statistical per capita emissions look better for Andrae Rupprechter’s department. The environment is not helped, tax revenues are actually decreased, and only the Environment Ministers can toast to the improvement of a dry statistic!

Of course, it is time to oppose the ongoing diesel boom, because it is the diesel vehicle in particular, that causes disproportionate amounts of pollutants. However, with a higher tax on diesel fuel, Rupprechter strikes the wrong ones: people who already have diesel cars, barring them from quickly affording a new car. They will not reduce their driving, yet be additionally taxed, not even to mention the farmers and small hauliers.
To reduce the share of diesel in the future, an increase in the Nova for diesel vehicles is much more appropriate, because only a lower proportion of new diesel vehicle entrants into the market can cause a shift.

But where do we want to move the shares of propulsion types to? What types of drive do we want to promote?

Unfortunately, in this respect I also detect wrong approaches with the Environment Minister: The focus on electric cars at this point is simply naive. While electric cars may indeed be the future, the current state of technology is simply not practicable. The short ranges of electric cars are often trivialized, but what definitely makes electric cars unuseable in everyday life is another, mostly forgotten fact: The long charging time.

Who seriously wants to buy an electric car if he can not even go to the mountains without having to take at least one long break to reload? Electric cars, to the current state, mostly seem to be second cars, intended rather for the wealthy. These are the vehicles, the Environment Minister wants to especially promote?

Subsidies for low-emission cars will be determined by the current technical reality, which already offers pretty good solutions.

One thing especially incomprehensible to me, is, why the Environment Minister forgets all about the natural gas drive? This produces no nitrogen oxide or particulate matter, only CO2 leaves the exhaust, and this may be diverted back into the car as biogas, rather than into the exhaust – in this manner, NGVs can virtually go CO2-neutral and even energy-autonomous for Austria.

Of course, electrical solutions can be useful already, but not as a pure electric car. The plug-in hybrid combines an electric drive with the range of fossil fuels and also takes advantage of recuperation during braking. Andrä Rupprechter is right in considering the promotion of plug-in hybrids. But still, for the average driver, a plug-in hybrid is not worth it by far, even if Rupprechter contributes 3,000 euros. Furthermore, the question of the overall ecological balance remains unanswered by the environment minister. The environmental impact caused by the production and disposal of electric car batteries, is what the Environment Minister should investigate, rather than uncritically pouncing on EU-standardized per capita emissions.

As so often in our politics, I see a risk that they are blindly led by some statistics, never scrutinizing this basis for decision making and estimating the impact of their decisions with too little foresighted and realism. Andrä Ruprechter’s solutions seem little down-to-earth and useful, but they can be a hint at the typical politician’s mindset: When a department looks bad on an EU statistic, taxes are increased in one place and money is thrown at someth until the surface looks shiny again.

Note: “Die Presse”, 20/7/2016, driving diesel to become more expensive:

Translation from German: Serena Nebo