I’m on the road a lot for work and pleasure – about 33,000 miles per year for the past 2+ years. You think I’d be concerned about the price of gasoline.
Well, I’m not. Don’t get me wrong – I’m concerned about the long-term stability and sustainability of our nation’s energy supply. And I’m concerned about the environmental impact of our nation’s oil addiction and that of the approaching economic boom in India and China that will drastically increase oil consumption in those nations. And I’m concerned about our government’s unwillingness to mandate any significant changes in the fuel efficiency of vehicles, especially SUVs. These are real problems.
$.60 more per gallon for me to drive around in my Altima? That is not a real problem. In fact, rather than seek ways to reduce the price of gasoline, our nation should welcome the increased cost, and seek to increase it even more. Why? Increased fuel costs – especially if we tack on a $1, $2 or $5 per gallon surcharge – provide a disincentive to driving, reducing congestion and environmental damage, and creating a demand for public transportation and walkable neighborhoods with sidewalks (remember sidewalks? For all you kids out there who grew up in the middle of Sprawl, USA, sidewalks were these great little paved walkways that allowed you to walk through a neighborhood to visit friends, neighbors, local businesses, the doctor’s office, the library and school – all of which were in walking distance). Taxis and public transit vehicles would be exempt from the fuel surcharge, thus increasing the comparative advantage of these forms of transportation. Short-term headaches? Absolutely! Long term? Better communities, a better environment, a better nation.
"But, we really should go after the oil company executives who are making excessive profits at our expense," you say. "What about a windfall profits tax?" Hey, I don’t idealize the Free Market by any stretch of the imagination, but I know a Big Government money-grab when I see it. Rather than penalize companies for making money under the current set of regulations and laws, Congress should change the system by eliminating most tax incentives for oil companies, requiring cleaner fuels, and (gradually) adding a surcharge to the price of fuel. We should be making a huge investment in alternative fuels and, to address short-term oil needs (and to appease Republicans and the oil industry), we should consider drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We should be radically increasing the fuel efficiency standards of our vehicles, and we should look to a day 20-30 years down the road when personal vehicles operating on fossil fuel are as outdated as regular leaded gasoline.
I’m glad that in his State of the Union Address President Bush admitted that our nation is addicted to oil. Stating the obvious is a good first step, especially for a former oil company executive. But now we need to radically re-orient our nation away from oil and towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly fuels and policies. From local zoning codes to fuel efficiency standards to taxes for oil companies to fuel surcharges, there is much more our government can do to decrease our dependence on (foreign) oil (but the foreign component is an issue for another post).