The argument that high fuel prices are good for cutting oil use and carbon emissions follows directly from basic economics. Mr. Truett hopes that oil prices will head back up this year and, guided by economics, many conservation advocates have long called for higher taxes to address oil-related concerns. I'm certainly not one to argue with those principles, but I also believe that lower fuel prices are on balance a very good thing for American consumers and the economy.
As for the oil market, the only thing we can say for sure is that it will always be volatile. It can't be counted on it to provide a durable market signal strong enough to motivate the level of ongoing efficiency gains needed to cut carbon and reduce other oil-related risks. Raising fuel taxes is a good idea just for the sake of keeping our infrastructure in better repair. But realistically speaking, any plausible tax increase won't make all that much difference in consumer interest. It certainly can't match the kind of disruptive market motivation that the rapid swing up towards $4.00/gallon caused just a few years ago.
So other than staying the course on regulation, what is also needed is a concerted public education campaign that "fuel economy matters." That would be a useful new initiative on which industry, government and environmental groups can collaborate. Consumers now understand that fuel economy matters. It will be crucial to remind them that it matters not just for pocketbook reasons, but also for cutting carbon and for dampening oil consumption. And that in turn will reduce the risk and pain of the future fuel price spikes that will inevitably occur.