As far as strange political bedfellows go, the senators are far from alone. In a conference call with reporters this week, the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry organization that normally embraces market-based energy policies, said it was neutral on the idea of hiking gas taxes.
API president Jack Gerard told reporters that the lobbying group "never opposed" a gas tax hike, but argued that there was a broader need to look at infrastructure beyond just funding road and bridge projects.
Although the organization has not taken a position on the gas tax—which leaves open the prospect that it could back a rate hike under certain circumstances—Gerard argued that policymakers should do a better job helping to facilitate the flow of private capital into infrastructure projects that support the U.S. energy boom.
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"We do believe we should look at infrastructure beyond the historic ways of viewing it for bridges and roads and say to ourselves, what about pipelines?" Gerard asked. "What about rail build-out? What about that other infrastructure necessary to make our market more efficient as an energy producer, an energy superpower?"
Surging oil and gas production, combined with popular support for energy pipelines—polls show broad public backing for the long-stalled Keystone XL project, a bill for which passed the House on Friday in the face of a veto threat from the White House—could add to the impetus for a gas tax hike, especially if traditional foes of higher taxes are warming to the idea.
Investment vehicles have raised billions, but North America's energy infrastructure is projected to need nearly $300 billion worth of new pipelines over the next 20 years, according to a 2014 study by the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. Still, some question whether the public could get behind using public money to fund a sector flush with private capital.
"One can demonstrate the value of defining infrastructure as gas pipelines," said Afonso. However, "it's not what most consumers and voters are used to. Adding the complexity of pipelines will make it that more difficult to pass more legislation."
Clarification: An earlier version of this story inferred that Gerard was calling for public funding of energy infrastructure projects. The latest version drops that suggestion.