Readers write in about lessons from the oil spill and pay for politicians.
The July 12 cover story, "Gusher: six ways to prevent another disaster," mentions the political difficulties of taxing oil but should have said more about the economic – as well as environmental – reasons favoring such a tax. The article states, "[n]othing can compete with [oil] in terms of price, ubiquity, and ease of use on such massive a scale."
Oil seems relatively cheap because consumers pay only for producing, refining, and transporting it. If the costs of climate change, pollution, and other environmental effects are factored in, the total cost of oil – according to Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute – would be four times as much as at present. We are seeing some of these additional costs now in the $20 billion BP escrow account to settle oil spill damages; the long-term expenses of restoring the environmental health of the Gulf; and the irreparable damage caused by the spill, which no financial expenditure can fix.
A pay-at-the-pump national tax to ensure that the price of oil reflects its full cost to society would provide more resources to deal with petroleum's effects on the environment as well as hasten the development of more-efficient cars and greener energy sources.
The stakes are so high that politicians need to address right away the case for a tax shift from labor onto carbon.