“We are delighted that we are cloned!  We hadn’t realized!” said Earl Martin, Harrisonburg, VA, when he learned that the Voluntary Gas Tax group he has been a part of in Harrisonburg since 2000 has a younger relative in Goshen, IN.

The Harrisonburg group has been featured on local and regional NPR stations and has a web site. Karl Shelly, Goshen, IN, saw the group’s web site and was inspired to begin a similar endeavor in his town. The Virginia group is not aware of any other offspring.

Voluntary gas taxes are a way of acknowledging that the costs of our petroleum addiction are not accurately reflected in U.S. gas prices. Participants keep track of how much they spend on gas and add a .50-cent surcharge to each gallon of gas they purchase. The Harrisonburg group meets twice yearly to collect their taxes and share ideas on how to spend the money. About 15 people attend the meetings and more participate in the tax.

“Typically we send about $500 to each of three groups or efforts,” Martin says. “We do local, national and international causes, depending on the suggestions members bring to the meeting.” One recent choice was a Mennonite Central Committee project planting pine trees in Cambodia.

“Often our money serves as seed money,” Martin says. For example, the Harrisonburg group gave about $500 to their local Habitat for Humanity a year or two ago, requesting that the money be spent on an energy-saving feature for a new house. Habitat for Humanity used the money to enable an employee to get “green” training. The organization then decided to install solar hot water in their next house. Now, all the houses they build have solar hot water.

The voluntary gas tax group in Goshen, IN, met in late January 2009. They collected about $1075 and chose two projects for their offering. Half their money will buy compact fluorescent light bulbs for lower income families and half will pay for bus tokens to be distributed at a local social service agency.