QUESTION FOR DOE: DOES ENERGY HOG GET SUV DEDUCTION?

Bob Tippee

With good reason and constructive intent, the US government has deployed all the energy-saving persuasion at its disposal.

On the Department of Energy's web site (www.energy.gov) can be found more ways to conserve energy than there are ways most people know about to consume it.

The campaign contains the inevitable banalities: "Not in use? Turn off the juice!"

And it deploys the animate symbol that seems to be essential to all such efforts to coax people into officially preferred behavior.

It's a pig. In ads soon to appear with DOE support, a cartoon beast known as the Energy Hog will scowl at energy consumers acting wastefully. How cute.

Of course, oil, gas, and electricity prices pushed up by capacity constraints, which in turn have been aggravated by hurricanes, probably will influence habits of energy consumption more than the Energy Hog will.

Still, symbols can be effective. So here's a suggestion for another one: Finish off business tax deductions for sport utility vehicles (SUVs).

Tax law allows small businesses to deduct $25,000 of the price of SUVs heavier than 6,000 lb in the year of purchase. Because of sloppy law writing, the SUV business deduction used to be $100,000, which is why so many doctors and lawyers drive the fuel guzzlers.

A year ago, Congress lowered the deduction. But the current SUV write-off remains considerably higher than deductions for smaller vehicles.

Tax law thus continues to encourage owners of small businesses to buy larger vehicles than they need. To some business owners, the incentive's value probably still offsets the extra fuel costs.

That needs to change.

Of course with fuel costs high and the tax incentive scaled back, the effect of such a change on the number of SUVs sold might not be great. Fuel costs alone have turned the once-popular wide-bodies into an inventory problem for automakers.

But it wouldn't hurt. It would at least move tax statutes toward alignment with consumer behavior sought by DOE's propaganda push.

As a symbol, any smart move by government on oil and gas bears more substance than the Energy Hog.

(Online Oct. 7, 2005; author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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