Obama Energy Pick Backs Higher Gas Tax

Dec 15, 2008 4:54pm

ABC News’ Teddy Davis Reports: Barack Obama’s pick for Department of Energy secretary backs higher gasoline taxes, a position which puts him at odds with the president-elect.

"Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe," Steven Chu, the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told the Wall Street Journal in September.

Chu said he favors gradually ramping up gasoline taxes over 15 years to nudge consumers into buying cars that are more fuel efficient and homes which are closer to work. Chu spoke with The Wall Street Journal in September but the newspaper did not publish the gas tax comments until last seek, shortly after the Nobel-prize winning physicist had been identified as Obama’s nominee for Energy secretary.

Chu is not alone among energy experts in thinking that higher gasoline taxes could tamp down demand and spur development in alternative energies.

Raising the federal gasoline tax, however, has been dismissed by Obama.

The president-elect acknowledges that gas prices have come down since the summer when they reached $4 per gallon. He worries, however, that the overall economic downturn makes American families ill-equipped to shoulder higher prices.

“Putting additional burdens on American families right now, I think, is a mistake,” Obama told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in an interview which aired on Dec. 7.

Lee Schipper, a project scientist with the Global Metropolitan Studies program at U.C. Berkeley, hailed Obama’s nomination of Chu as Energy Secretary and praised his colleague’s support for higher gasoline taxes.

“I can imagine in the hearings Chu facing problems because he dares say, ‘higher prices,’” said Schipper. “But I think there is no solution that does not involve higher prices.”

Schipper, who shared a lab at Berkeley with Chu from 1972-74, estimates that the average cost of gasoline in Europe at present is somewhere between $7-9 per gallon.

Schipper thinks Obama’s concerns about not placing additional burdens on America’s families can be addressed by agreeing to rebate all — or close to all — of the money raised by higher fuel taxes.

“The answer is: raise the price of gasoline and give all the money back,” said Schipper.

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