Oil is at its lowest price in decades, which has many people worrying about what burning all that cheap oil will do to an already crippled planet. Now US President Obama is proposing something pretty ambitious: Taxing oil companies to pay for cleaner transportation infrastructure. The White House released a plan yesterday for the 21st Century Clean Transportation System, paid for by a $US10 tax on every barrel of oil. The idea is to make oil companies subsidise the necessary transportation improvements needed to wean the US off fossil fuels for good:
The President's plan would increase American investments in clean transportation infrastructure by roughly 50 per cent 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.
Obviously the implications for this are huge. Of all the climate- and transportation-related proposals that Obama has initiated over the last year, this could have the greatest impact. There would be a direct stream of money for Obama's autonomous vehicle plan, for example, and for initiatives like public transit and high-speed rail which are currently suffering from lack of funding. This idea also would help to fix a lot of the problems with how transportation funds are currently allocated. With an estimated $US20 billion coming in from the oil tax annually, the US federal government could prioritise transit, bike and pedestrian improvements over roads America almost certainly don't need. Of course, not everyone agrees about this and it will be a very tough sell to Republican legislators.
Transportation currently accounts for about a third of the US's total emissions. If the country could make a serious dent in that figure, the world might have a shot at achieving the lofty climate goals set by last year's Paris summit. With global oil prices so low right now, it's the perfect opportunity to attempt some kind of big idea that might help to shift the country more towards that future.