Why Gas is Too Cheap

CHOOSING TO PAY more for a gallon of gas than the price at the pump sounds a bit crazy—but that is exactly what a couple of dozen members of the Community of St. Martin, a worshipping group of Lutherans, Catholics, Mennonites, and others in Minneapolis, Minnesota, have covenanted for more than a year. It’s one way they’re seeking to show commitment to environmental stewardship.

After committing to a voluntary “tax” rate (from $1 to $3 per gallon, depending on income), each community member keeps track of gas receipts. The Community of St. Martin (CSM) collectively decides in advance how their taxes will be spent each quarter. Every three months, the group gathers to write checks and conduct a lively discussion about changes in their gasoline usage habits. CSM borrowed the idea from a group in Goshen, Indiana, that started a similar campaign 10 years ago.

Why intentionally pay more for gas than it costs? According to CSM members, this is precisely the point: The price of gas in the U.S. doesn’t reflect the actual costs that U.S. society and the global community incur as a result of the country’s dependence on oil. Those costs include fossil fuel’s contributions to air pollution and global warming. Also hidden at the pump are the costs of U.S. strategies to maintain an inexpensive supply of oil, often through political or military interventions in oil-producing regions—not to mention $4 billion a year in tax credits and subsidies to Big Oil.

Sara Nelson-Pallmeyer, the group’s treasurer, says that “everyone is paying a different amount—from $10 to $385 per month. The fun part is that so far we’ve given more than $5,000 to organizations working on alternative transportation solutions and advocating for political change around climate-change issues.” She added that, ironically, “The real heroes of the group are the ones paying the least.”

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