Immediate release
May 19, 2008

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Michael Vickerman

Fossil Fuel Watch: Gas Tax Pains
by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
May 19, 2008

Could there be more convincing proof of America’s debilitating addiction to oil than the recent calls to institute a gasoline tax holiday issued by two of the three presidential aspirants still in the race?

Imagine what would happen if a candidate for public office endorsed a repeal of cigarette taxes. Articulating such a position would instantly disqualify that candidate from serious consideration by rank and file voters. Indeed, it would stop a candidacy faster than you can say “macaca.”

Yet, while Sens. John McCain or Hillary Clinton, both advocates of suspending the 18.4 cents/gallon gasoline tax, have been excoriated in editorials for espousing such patent flimflam, they don’t seem to have lost any ground with the voting public.

Though the McCain-Clinton gas tax suspension proposal set a new low in the public discussion of energy, it can’t be dismissed as mere election-year pandering. Instead, this proposal reveals a dark truth about ourselves: we Americans are psychologically unprepared to accept the energy reality we now inhabit, which is that oil is neither cheap nor plentiful (relative to demand). The same holds true for natural gas.

The factors converging to create global energy insecurity—diminishing output from supergiant fields, rapid demand growth in the world’s most populous nations, civil unrest in oil-exporting nations, etc.—cannot be held at bay with political stunts.

Whether its citizens like it or not, the United States will, going forward, consume a smaller portion of the Earth’s remaining petroleum than at any time during the Automobile Age.

But before the federal government takes action to address supply uncertainties and price volatility, our leaders have to tell the nation in no uncertain terms that continued dependency on oil and natural gas will hasten our economic decline and lead us into future resource wars.

Certainly, Senators McCain and Clinton aren’t up to the challenge. Fortunately for the nation, both are powerless to push their intellectually dishonest tax holiday proposal past Congress and the White House.

The White House predicts that this year’s budget deficit will reach $410 million, a sum that excludes the cost of our continuing military misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States can hardly afford to forgo $9 billion in hard revenues just to manufacture the illusion that every motorist will have $28 extra dollars to spend on items other than gasoline.

Savings in excess of $28 can easily be achieved with one less fill-up at the gas station. And how can that be accomplished? By driving less aggressively, turning off the engine while standing, keeping your tires fully inflated, and organizing your errands to reduce miles traveled.

These are simple and practical suggestions that don’t involve sacrifice or hardship. All that is required is the will to take responsibility over your driving habits.

Each time we leave a light bulb burning in an unoccupied room, each time we leave the engine running in the drive-up lane, we dig ourselves a deeper hole. Of course, we must stop what we’re doing, but we’ve become so accustomed to cheap and abundantly available sources of fossil energy that wasting it has become second nature.

So who’s going to throw the bucket of cold water on our national energy fiesta and tell the people that thrift and responsibility are in and energy profligacy is out. Senators Clinton and McCain have disqualified themselves in spectacular fashion. Is Obama our only hope here?


Michael Vickerman is the executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a Madison-based nonprofit organization that acts as a catalyst to advance a sustainable energy future through public policy and private sector initiatives. These commentaries also posted on RENEW’s blog:
and Madison Peak Oil Group’s blog: