Investors in South African integrated energy firm Sasol (NYSE:SSL) collectively exhaled on Monday. After nearly two years of uncertainty, the possibility of a windfall profits tax on the liquid fuels industry has been put to bed. The news was enough to lift the stock nearly 9% that day.

A government-appointed task team, packed full of people with PhDs, took one year to answer the following deeply nuanced question: Are the recent "windfall profits" of Sasol and other liquid fuels providers cyclical, or permanent? I am not kidding. What part of cyclical don't the good doctors understand?

If you believe that oil prices have reached a permanently high plateau, the last few days should have given you a bit of a jolt. The mere whiff of a housing-induced economic slowdown in the U.S. has been enough to take oil prices down by about $7 per barrel in a matter of days. Sure, I think we'll see $100 oil sometime in the not-too-distant future, but I wouldn't rule out $50 oil along the way.

I think what ultimately swayed the South African government was not a meditation on the Ricardian theory of economic rent, but instead a pragmatic consideration of energy security. This is the same banner under which Peabody Energy (NYSE:BTU) and the rest of the U.S. coal industry have been pushing for federal support of a domestic coal-to-liquids (CTL) industry. South Africa has a good thing going with its technological leadership in the field of CTL. It's in the nation's interest to see Sasol thrive. Raising taxes on the national energy champion just doesn't send the right message.

Matters are a bit different over here in the U.S., where companies like ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX) tend to produce fuel the old-fashioned way. The House of Representatives has fewer qualms about cutting tax breaks to our oil companies, because they're a symbol of our foreign oil "addiction."

Of course, there's a big difference between levying a windfall profits tax and removing a production subsidy. I don't believe a profitable endeavor should be subsidized any more than it should be taxed. So I'm not all that opposed to the House's recent effort to redirect tax dollars toward fledgling alternative energy technologies. Sasol could be a beneficiary of any moves toward subsidizing CTL in the U.S., which would be quite a reversal for a company so recently feared to be subject to the whims of its own government's taxation schemes.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't own shares in any company mentioned. Meditate on The Motley Fool's disclosure policy.