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Time to re-enter oil market

Quietly but wisely, the Commerce Department has decided to allow the first exports of U.S. crude oil since Congress imposed a ban on such sales (except to Canada) in the 1970s.

Commerce’s move is a step in the right direction; resuming oil sales abroad could help the U.S. economy reap the full fruits of the shale revolution that has propelled this country back into the top ranks of global oil and gas production.

With U.S. production booming, this country is in a position to move the world market. There are also the geopolitical benefits of bringing a stable new source of supply onto world markets to offset those from Iraq, Libya and other trouble spots.

Fossil fuel consumption contributes to carbon emissions and climate change, so free trade in oil should be complemented by other policies to encourage lower consumption, such as a carbon tax. Even with the best such policies in place, though, a carbon-free energy future is years away –and in the interim U.S. consumers and industry will rely on oil and gas. U.S. policy should be to ensure that the world market for those commodities functions as flexibly and transparently as possible.