Exploring the burgeoning movement to organize the rich for our common good.
Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) recently introduced legislation to increase the excise tax on private jet fuel. Representative Nydia Velazquez (D-NY-07) introduced complimentary legislation in the House. The Markey-Velazquez proposal would raise the existing excise tax from 22 cents to a $1.95 per gallon.
This would effectively levy a $200 tax on every ton of carbon emitted by a private jet. The tax would not apply to commercial flights or smaller private planes that use aviation gas.
Under the Markey-Velazquez plan, the revenue from the tax would go to the Airport & Airway Trust Fund and a newly created federal Clean Communities Trust Fund to support air monitoring for environmental justice communities and long-term investments in clean, affordable public transit across the country, including energy-efficient bus routes and passenger rail near commercial airports.
How much additional revenue would this tax raise?
According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s annual Fact Sheet on the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, the current tax on non-commercial aviation fuel (other than Avgas) brought in $202 million in 2022, up from $164 billion in FY2021. Markey’s legislation proposes to increase the tax by 8.9 times. Without any behavior changes or tax avoidance, the new tax would raise an additional $1.6 billion, or $1.8 billion overall.
Of course, we do hope, for the sake the earth, that the increased excise tax leads to behavioral changes and that the wealthiest people on the planet fly their private jets less frequently.
According to the report we co-authored with Kalena Thomhave, High Flyers 2023: How Ultra-Rich Private Jet Travel Costs the Rest of Us and Burns Up the Planet, the owners of private jets are among the wealthiest people in society. The median wealth of a private jet owner is $190 million, while the median wealth of a fractional jet owner (think time-share condo) is $140 million). These owners will most likely pay the tax before they change their luxury consumption behavior.
Private jet travel is one of the most indefensible emitters of carbon pollution. The cost of such profligate consumption should be very high.
Chuck Collins is co-editor of Inequality.org and co-author of the report, High Flyers 2023. His latest book is the eco-fiction novel, Altar to an Erupting Sun. Omar Ocampo is a researcher on the program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.