The beauty of a gas tax at $3 is that it obviates the waste and folly of an army of bureaucrats telling auto companies what cars in which fleets need to meet what arbitrary standards of fuel efficiency. Abolish all the regulations and let the market decide. Consumers are not stupid. Within weeks of Katrina, SUV sales were already in decline and hybrids were flying off the lots.
Supply. For decades we've been dithering over drilling in a tiny part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Look, I too love the caribou. They are sweet, picturesque and reputedly harmless. But dire predictions about the devastation that Prudhoe Bay oil development would visit upon the caribou proved false. They have thrived. Let's get serious. We live at the edge of oil shortages and in perpetual vulnerability to oil blackmail. We have soldiers dying in the oil fields of the Middle East, yet we leave untouched the largest untapped oil field in North America so that Lower-48ers can enjoy an image of pristine Arctic purity. This is an indulgence bordering on decadence.
As is our refusal to drill on the continental shelf. Offshore drilling technology is far safer and more efficient than it was decades ago when this prohibition was passed. We're starving ourselves.
The same logic applies to refineries. We have not built a new one since 1976. Gasoline doesn't grow on trees. The U.S. refining industry operates at 96 percent capacity. That is unsustainable. We need the equivalent of the military-base closing commission, whereby outside experts decide which bases should be closed in the national interest. A refinery commission that would situate 15 new refineries scattered throughout the U.S. (some perhaps on Army bases scheduled for closing) would spread the pain, depoliticize the process and arm us against future shortages.
With these simple steps, we could within a decade finally escape the oil noose. But don't hold your breath. The Senate just loved its little oil-executive inquisition. The House Wednesday night stripped out the ANWR drilling provision. And there is not a single national politician who dares propose raising gas taxes by even a penny. We are criminally unserious about energy independence and we will pay the price.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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