Letters to the Editor – Weekly Issue of August 2, 2010

Readers write in about lessons from the oil spill and pay for politicians.

Lessons from the oil spill

The July 12 cover story, "Gusher: six ways to prevent another disaster," mentions the political difficulties of taxing oil but should have said more about the economic – as well as environmental – reasons favoring such a tax. The article states, "[n]othing can compete with [oil] in terms of price, ubiquity, and ease of use on such massive a scale."

Oil seems relatively cheap because consumers pay only for producing, refining, and transporting it. If the costs of climate change, pollution, and other environmental effects are factored in, the total cost of oil – according to Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute – would be four times as much as at present. We are seeing some of these additional costs now in the $20 billion BP escrow account to settle oil spill damages; the long-term expenses of restoring the environmental health of the Gulf; and the irreparable damage caused by the spill, which no financial expenditure can fix.

A pay-at-the-pump national tax to ensure that the price of oil reflects its full cost to society would provide more resources to deal with petroleum's effects on the environment as well as hasten the development of more-efficient cars and greener energy sources.

The stakes are so high that politicians need to address right away the case for a tax shift from labor onto carbon.

Scott L. Hoffman

Washington, D.C.

Technology and rapidly escalating computing power are constantly offering us advances in business pursuits, engineering wonders, and even a vastly improved standard of living – always reassuring us that the next step is safe and desirable. But are these leading-edge promises really safe?

Lesson No. 7 from the oil spill: We need to do a much better job of estimating and mitigating risks; strengthen oversight of risky leading-edge propositions; and spend money upfront to prepare for possible disasters that could ensue, including development of necessary plans, equipment, training, and response teams. This isn't just an oil-drilling issue, either. Doesn't it apply to banking, Wall Street, nuclear power, pharmaceuticals, and other issues? I shudder to think of other areas where we are hanging over the precipice without a safety net.

Chris Johnson

Oakton, Va.

Kenyan politicians

The United States continues to lead the world by example. Mike Pflanz's article ("Kenyan MPs vote themselves top pay," July 19) on the Kenyan members of parliament voting to increase their own salaries 40 percent to $175,000 per year (compared with the country's average income of $1,600) is a reflection of some of the greatest achievements of our own members of Congress, who have been feathering their nests for decades. What greater compliment than imitation!

Mike MacDougall

Spokane, Wash.

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