The Carter administration is considering a proposal that would add 10 cents a gallon to gasoline taxes in each of the next three years if U.S. gasoline consumption continues rising above this year's level.
The current federal tax is 4 cents a gallon.
The Carter plan also calls for continuing the 10-cent tax increase unless Americans reduce their gasoline consumption from 1977 levels by 2 per cent a year between 1981 and 1935. The cumulative tax, if enacted, would not exceed 50 cents a gallon, according to one proposal.
A 10-cent-a-gallon tax would net the federal government approximately $10 billion which, in turn, could be used to lower Social Security taxes or state sales taxes to reduce the burden on consumers, administration sources said.
U.S. gasoline prices have risen 53 per cent since the 1973 Arab oil embargo and now average 61.8 cents a gallon: Compared with prices in other industrialized countries, U.S. gasoline prices are among the lowest.
Last year Americans used 7 million barrels of gasoline a day.
A "standby" gasoline tax, President Carter's planners hope, would reduce gasoline consumption and further ease political opposition he would undoubtedly face if he called for an immediate increase in gasoline taxes.
The gasoline tax, like a wide range of proposals the Carter team is weighing, would lead to an increase in energy prices across the board.
Energy price increases under the Carter plan would result from regulatory actions rather than free-market forces, as under former President Ford's plan.
Administration officials said yesterday that specifics of the standby gasoline tax and other energy proposals outlined in a planning document obtained by The Washington Post are "moving targets" and are still being analyzed in top-level administration meetings.
Carter has said he will announce his energy policy proposals April 20.
Another major proposal under consideration is extending price controls to all new natural gas, including gas produced and sold within the same state that under existing law is excluded from interstate price controls, now set at $1.45 per 1,000 cubuc feet. New gas would be subject to a $1.75 ceiling price.
Existing natural gas pricing contracts would remain in effect, although there would be provisions to increase prices for industrial and utility natural gas consumers. There would also be provisions for the government to give price incentives for costly sources of new natural gas such as deep drilling projects.
Oil price controls, now administered under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, would remain in effect indefinitely. Existing controls on the $11 a barrel and $5.17 a barrel oil would be allowed to rise quarterly in step with inflation. A wellhead tax, equal to the difference between controlled prices and world oil prices, would be applied in two stages, bringing the price of domestic oil up to the $14.75 a barrel price of oil imported to the United States from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Revenues raised by the tax would in turn be used for rebates to home heating oil consumers.
This proposal would, the Carter planners believe, provide incentives for new oil production while preventing windfall profits. The wellhead tax would also eliminate the government's so-called entitlements program, which equalizes prices for refiners.
The Carter energy plan would mandate conversion of all oil and natural gas burning utilities and industries to coal-fueled boilers by 1990.
An energy tax raising prices above comparable world oil prices would be levied on industrial users of oil and natural gas beginning in 1980. Utilities and other industires would in turn be eligible for rebates on taxes paid and for tax credits to cover the cost of conversion.
The plan also includes a "gas guzzler" tax for new autos that do not meet mandatory gasoline efficiency standards. They require 18 miles a gallon by 1978, 19 in 1979, 20 in 1980, running up to 27.5 in 1985. Rebates would be given on new cars that get better mileage than the standards require. On imported cars rebates could not exceed the amount of taxes collected on each country's autos. Cars from Canada would be treated like U.S. produced cars in assessing taxes.
Carter's advisers are also shaping plans that would lead to some change at the state level in utility rate regulation.