March 30, 2011

Energy Policy: The Best Idea that Everyone Hates

The Economist, Staff

Original News Source >

TODAY, Barack Obama unveiled the latest set of presidential proposals for reducing oil imports, strengthening the economy, and cutting emissions. Nearly everything he proposed is old hash; American leaders have been dutifully acting out this bit of theatre since the Nixon administration.

And as my colleague at Democracy in America points out, even if Mr Obama were serious about pressing for these policies, he’d face significant opposition in Congress:

Worse, those parts of the president’s plan that need congressional approval—the clean energy standard, more subsidies, extra funding for research on whizz-bang energy technology—will never receive it. The Republicans who control the House are dead-set against anything that smacks of greenery, not to mention anything that would add to spending at a time when they’re trying to take an axe to it.

Nominally, at least, both parties care about oil imports and both parties care about the deficit. They don’t necessarily behave as if they care, but they say they care. Can Congress address these priorities without explicitly doing anything that’s either 1) green or which 2) requires new spending?

Sure, Congress can raise the petrol tax. Just as a reminder, the chairmen of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles deficit commission  recommended that the petrol tax be increased by 15 cents per gallon beginning in 2013. For perspective: average retail petrol prices in America rose by more than that in the month of March. A higher tax rate would discourage consumption while raising money that could be used for whatever Congress wanted, including deficit reduction.

The idea isn’t popular, but it makes a great deal of sense.

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