Elon Musk boards his private jet

Tesla CEO Elon Musk boards his private jet before departing from Beijing Capital International Airport on May 31, 2023.

(Photo: Jade Gao/AFP via Getty Images)

'Time to Ground These Fat Cats': Markey Proposes Tax Hike on Private Jet Travel

"Billionaires and the ultra-wealthy are getting a bargain, paying less in taxes each year to fly private and contribute more pollution than millions of drivers combined on the roads below."

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey announced legislation on Wednesday that would hike fuel taxes for private jet travel and transfer the revenue to a new federal fund aimed at bolstering clean public transportation and other climate initiatives.

The bill, titled the Fueling Alternative Transportation With a Carbon Aviation Tax (FATCAT) Act, would add a $1.73-per-gallon surcharge to the current fuel tax for private jet travel, which is around $0.22 per gallon. Markey's new surcharge would amount to the equivalent of roughly $200 per metric ton of a private jet's carbon emissions, according to the senator's office.

Private jet flights—a significantly more polluting form of travel than commercial flights or trains—surged during the coronavirus pandemic. One recent study by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and the Patriotic Millionaires estimated that private jets' planet-warming emissions jumped by more than 23% during the Covid-19 crisis.

Elon Musk, Tesla's billionaire CEO, is the most frequent private jet flyer in the U.S., helping produce more than 2,100 tons of carbon emissions last year while paying minimal taxes, according to IPS and the Patriotic Millionaires. The groups pointed to research showing that just 1% of the world's population is responsible for half of all aviation emissions.

"The 1 percent can't free ride on our environment and our infrastructure at a discount," Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement. "Billionaires and the ultra-wealthy are getting a bargain, paying less in taxes each year to fly private and contribute more pollution than millions of drivers combined on the roads below. It's time to ground these fat cats and make them pay their fair share so that we can invest in building public transportation that communities across the country and our economy desperately need."

Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) introduced companion legislation in the House.

"Working families shouldn't subsidize the ultra-wealthy to fly private and destroy our environment," said Velázquez. "If billionaires want to travel on private jets, they should pay similar taxes to those flying commercial. It's time for the rich to pay for their pollution so we can fund environmental justice initiatives and affordable public transportation across the country."

Climate campaigners have been targeting private jets with growing frequency in recent years as research has more closely examined their impacts on the planet. The European group Transport & Environment found that private jets are five to 14 times more polluting than commercial planes and 50 times more polluting than trains.

In May, dozens of climate activists and scientists disrupted Europe's largest private jet sales fair to demand a total ban on the planes. IPS and the Patriotic Millionaires estimated that the median net worth of a full private jet owner is $190 million.

"Sales of private jets are skyrocketing, and with them the one percent's hugely unfair contribution to the climate crisis—while the most vulnerable people deal with the damage," Klara Maria Schenk of Greenpeace's Mobility for All campaign said during the May protest. "It is high time for politicians to put a stop to this unjust and excessive pollution and ban private jets."

This story has been updated with additional details about the bill.

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