Obama proposes $10 oil tax to fund clean transport

Mooted levy to pay for high speed rail, self-driving cars and public transport heats up climate debate in presidential election year

President Obama visiting a light rail system in St Paul, Minnesota (White House Flickr)

President Obama visiting a light rail system in St Paul, Minnesota (Pete Souza/White House Flickr)

By Megan Darby

US president Barack Obama revealed controversial plans for a US$10-a-barrel oil tax to fund clean transport on Thursday.

The levy, to be phased in over five years, would pay for initiatives ranging from high-speed rail links to research into self-driving cars.

It addresses a sector responsible for 30% of US greenhouse gas emissions, with car-oriented cities and suburbs locking in polluting lifestyles.

But the investment programme, worth $32 billion annually, would need the backing of Republican-controlled Congress, which is unlikely to be forthcoming.

Paul Ryan, speaker of the house, reacted swiftly, tweeting that the proposal was “dead on arrival”.

While the chances of Obama’s plan being adopted in the short term look slim, it is expected to jump-start debate on the country’s neglected transport infrastructure.

The highway network “is not ready to meet the challenges of a growing 21st century economy”, a White House fact sheet explained.

“That is why President Obama’s budget lays out a bold new plan for building a 21st Century Clean Transportation System funded by a new fee paid by oil companies.

“The President’s plan would increase American investments in clean transportation infrastructure by roughly 50 percent while reforming the investments we already make to help reduce carbon pollution, cut oil consumption, and create new jobs.

“The new fee on oil will also encourage American innovation and leadership in clean technologies to help reshape our transportation landscape for the decades ahead.”

Read more on: Road | US