ASWC Passes Internal Carbon Tax

North Bennett, News Writer

ASWC asserted its commitment to sustainability on Sunday, Feb. 7, approving one of the nation’s first collegiate internal carbon taxes. The tax affects only travel expenses coming from ASWC’s Travel and Student Development fund and will serve as a revenue source for the Green Fund. ASWC hopes the tax will serve as an educational tool to raise student awareness of the carbon emissions associated with travel.

Taxes will not be levied upon students themselves. ASWC will still regularly allot students their requested travel money, but the Finance Chair is now responsible for earmarking and setting aside records of the travel fund allotments. At the end of each year, the Finance Chair will sum the earmarked tax revenue and transfer it into the Green Fund, which is dedicated to funding student sustainability initiatives on campus.

According to ASWC President Jack Percival, students will mainly see the effects of the act when filling out the Travel and Student Development request form, which will have a new educational section concerning the carbon tax.

“There will be a separate portion on the form that asks students to calculate [the tax amount] themselves, and so the hope is that having students … actually take into account the fact that flying … does generate a significant amount of carbon emissions will give them pause, and say, ‘oh, this is interesting, this is how my personal travel can impact the environment,’” said Percival.

As of now, ASWC plans to calculate the tax amount based on students’ mode of travel, the number of vehicles used and, to calculate distance, the time zone in which the destination is located. Additionally, the tax applies only to each request, not to each student. For example, the tax charges 7.50 dollars per car for students driving to Seattle, and 30 dollars for any number of students flying to Chicago, since they would presumably take the same plane.

“It’s not going to be by mileage, and that’s something that could change in the future if we feel like the system we have now doesn’t work. But for starters we wanted to keep it as simple as possible so that both ASWC and people requesting funds don’t get super confused about how to calculate the tax,” said ASWC Finance Chair Anya Tudisco.

ASWC passed the internal carbon tax as a two-year pilot program and can change how the tax is calculated without additional legislation. However, the tax will not go into effect until Fall 2016, and the Green Fund will not receive tax revenue until Fall 2017.

“We can’t really change how people request to travel in Student Development in the same year, it’s just going to confuse people…So starting in [Fall 2016], when requests start coming in, the next finance chair is going to start earmarking things, and then will place those funds into the Green Fund for the next year,” Tudisco said.

According to ASWC Sustainability Director Dani Hupper, the new tax will not alter the amount of money available to students in the both the Travel and Student Development Fund and the Green Fund.

“We are giving no more money to the Green Fund than we would normally. So instead of traditionally allocating like four hundred dollars to the Green Fund as we have in past years, we’re just sourcing it through the carbon tax. The money is coming from different places, but there’s the same amount of money in each pot,” Hupper said.

As a result, the internal carbon tax is largely a symbolic measure highlighting Whitman students’ commitment to sustainability practices.

“[T]he fact that we are saying to the world that we so believe in carbon pricing that we are willing to enact it in our own school says something about our commitment, and says something to our policy makers at large, that not only are we voting in favor of this, but we are even doing it in our own communities,” Hupper said.