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Why pump prices need to stay high

A tax on fossil fuels will cut greenhouse gases – as Sweden has done since 1991.

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Driving less? More than two-thirds of car owners already are. It's a natural reflex to $50-$70 tank fill-ups. But US drivers may also know it's time to pay a price to curb global warming. That may be one reason they reject the campaign stunt of urging a holiday for the federal gas tax.

US politicians can't have it both ways. Most seek the type of solutions for climate change that would raise energy costs, yet they are now trying to prevent the very kind of high pump prices that help drive conservation and green technology.

Next year, Democrats in Congress plan to pass antiglobal-warming measures that are sure to drive up consumer costs. Rather than prevent $4-a-gallon gas now, legislators should welcome it. One courageous lawmaker, John Dingell (D), who heads the House energy panel, even proposes a 50-cent hike in the gas tax.

World oil markets are doing the US a favor by imposing a form of tax that challenges energy profligacy and disregard for the planet's future. A gas price threshold has now been reached to influence behavior. SUV sales are down. Mass transit ridership and carpooling are up. More people want to live closer to work.

What do these lifestyle-altering trends signal? That Congress must impose a "carbon" tax on fossil-fuel use, from electric utilities to home furnaces to gas-guzzling vehicles.

Such a tax is a better tool than the alternative favored in Congress: a "cap and trade" system that would force only industries to curb greenhouse gases while allowing cleaner companies to sell permits to more polluting ones. The system is complex, inflexible, and easily abused.

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