Donald J. Marples
Specialist in Public Finance
Molly F. Sherlock
Analyst in Economics
Energy tax policy involves the use of one of the government’s main fiscal instruments, taxes (both as an incentive and as a disincentive) to alter the allocation or configuration of energy resources and their use. In theory, energy taxes and subsidies, like tax policy instruments in general, are intended either to correct a problem or distortion in the energy markets or to achieve some economic (efficiency, equity, or even macroeconomic) objective. In practice, however, energy tax policy in the United States is made in a political setting, being determined by the views and interests of the key players in this setting: politicians, special interest groups, bureaucrats, academic scholars, and fiscal dictates. As a result, enacted tax policy embodies compromises between economic and political goals, which could either mitigate or compound existing distortions.
The economic rationale for government intervention in energy markets is commonly based on the governments perceived ability to correct for market failures. Market failures, such as externalities, principal-agent problems, and informational asymmetries, result in an economically inefficient allocation of resources—in which society does not maximize well-being. To correct for these market failures governments can utilize several policy options, including taxes and regulation, in an effort to achieve policy goals.
Date of Report: December 30, 2009
Number of Pages: 29
Order Number: R40999
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