WASHINGTON — President Obama’s budget request to Congress will include a new fee on oil companies, requiring them to pay $10 to the federal government for every barrel of oil they produce, the White House said on Thursday.
The money, which could bring in up to $32 billion in new federal revenue annually, would be spent on highway infrastructure and research for cleaner vehicles.
The proposal to further increase costs for fossil fuel production is part of a broader effort by Mr. Obama to fight . The goal is to make it more expensive to produce and consume energy sources that emit planet-warming greenhouse gases while stoking the market for clean, renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar.
“This new approach to investment and funding is one that places a priority on reducing greenhouse gases, while working to develop a more integrated, sophisticated and sustainable transportation sector,” said a White House fact sheet on the new proposal.
The latest moves are aimed particularly at slowing fossil fuel production. Last month, the Interior Department announced plans to halt new leases of coal mines on public lands while it conducts a study that could result in higher fees for companies that extract coal on federal property.
Oil prices are at their lowest point in more than a decade, which some policy makers believe provides an opportunity to minimize the impact of such a fee. But oil companies, whose profits have declined significantly with the price of oil, are likely to fight back hard, as will Republicans in Congress, who have consistently blocked any efforts to raise taxes.
Still, the proposal could have some backers who are concerned about the federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for construction and maintenance of the nation’s roads and bridges and has been on the brink of insolvency. The highway fund comes from an 18.4-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline, which Congress has not raised since 1993.
“The fee raises the funding necessary to make these new investments, while also providing for the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund to ensure we maintain the infrastructure we have,” the White House fact sheet says. “By placing a fee on oil, the president’s plan creates a clear incentive for private sector innovation to reduce our reliance on oil and at the same time invests in clean energy technologies that will power our future.”
James Inhofe, the conservative Republican who is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees funding of the Highway Trust Fund, has cautiously supported proposals to increase the gas tax. The key, Mr. Inhofe said in a round-table interview with reporters last year, is to not call it a tax.
“It’s not a tax. It’s a user fee,” he said. “Nothing is off the table.”
Mr. Inhofe suggested that there might be a way to bring his fellow tax-averse conservatives around — even those, like himself, from oil states — on the need to fund new highway construction. “As a conservative myself, I’ve been successful at explaining this to far-right groups,” he said. “It’s all a matter of nomenclature.”