Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Do Something About Oil

WaPo's Robert Samuelson writes about the continuing oil crisis we face:
The Age of Oil continues; we need to deal with it. The upheaval in Egypt reminds us of lessons that, despite decades of warnings, Americans have consistently sidestepped: The United States and the rest of the world will depend on oil for the indefinite future; global oil markets remain hostage to political crises that cannot be predicted or controlled; and we have not taken the prudent steps that would reduce - though not eliminate - our vulnerability to catastrophic oil interruptions....

What can we do? Well, two things: decrease oil consumption, preferably by a stiffer gasoline tax; and increase production, preferably by less-hostile regulation. The Obama administration isn't doing either. Instead, it's touting a goal of 1 million electric hybrid vehicles by 2015. This is more public relations than policy. The goal is probably unrealistic; first-year sales of the Chevy Volt may reach 25,000. Even if the 1 million is attained, the oil savings would be tiny - perhaps 40,000 barrels a day, about two-tenths of 1 percent of U.S. consumption of 19 million barrels a day. There are already 240 million cars and light trucks using gasoline.

A higher gasoline tax - gradually introduced to avoid wrecking the economic recovery - would dampen wild swings in fuel prices and push consumers to buy the more-fuel-efficient vehicles that the government is ordering auto companies to make. Americans have traditionally preferred bigger vehicles and, without the prod, might cling to old habits. There is a convergence here between energy and budget policy. An energy tax would help both. It would improve oil security and, with spending cuts, curb budget deficits. Neither the Obama administration nor congressional Republicans seem willing to grasp the possibilities.
Samuelson doesn't mention the Peak Oil issue, but his basic point is well taken. Don't just stand there: cut oil consumption, increase production, and do it now.

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