Andrew Revkin interviews Dr. K:
Q. Just to be sure readers are up to date on your proposal for a gas tax, has your conception changed at all or is it still basically revenue neutral, compensated by payroll tax reduction?
A. There’s been no change in my views whatsoever. My only regret is that it wasn’t instituted when I proposed it, when gasoline prices were a dollar less than they are now. That dollar could have by now been going back into the U.S. economy as a net zero gas tax instead of going overseas — as that dollar is now.
Q. Do you see any need or sense in doing the same with other fossil or finite energy sources (e.g., coal)?
A. No. We don’t import coal.
Q. There are other proposals to use a very modest tweak in fuel taxes to boost basic research and development funding aimed at expanding nonpolluting energy options (nuclear, solar, storage, etc) — an arena that has been unbelievably underfunded for decades (see graph at link) compared to other areas of scientific inquiry. Could you see a tax where a small portion of funding was dedicated to such inquiry (and insulated from congressional earmarking)?
A. No. The point of gasoline taxes is to reduce consumption/demand — with all of the attendant beneficial side effects — not to fund other projects, however lovely they sound. Once you break the discipline of having every penny of the tax go back to the taxpayer immediately through the payroll tax reduction, you’ve turned the gas tax into a slush fund where politicians pick winners and losers, play favorites and dole out patronage.
Q. The most important question: Do you see any real-world path to overcoming congressional resistance toany gas tax (even though polls have long shown voters would support such a tax if the funds were dedicated to energy advancements)? Is this something that could only occur under a Republican administration (I mused on this not long ago)?
A. Only a Republican could do it, and even then it would be difficult. The most prominent support of my idea when I published the article was from Senator Lugar.