Obama’s energy visit involves oil policy jujitsu

March 15, 2013
AP120124147378
Protesters march against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline Jan. 24 in Washington. (AP)

The pitch President Obama will make as he visits the Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago Friday involves a bit of policy jujitsu: let's take the money we make by producing oil to stop using it altogether.

Obama will call for the establishment of the Energy Security Trust, a $2 billion fund over 10 years that takes some of the federal royalties the government receives from offshore oil and gas leasing to invest in research that will shift the country's transportation sector away from using oil.

The White House selected Argonne because the lab did some of the breakthrough research into advanced battery technology back in the 1990s, before there was a commercial market for such things. Establishing a fund that will not be subject to the uncertainties of the annual appropriations cycle, said a White House aide who asked not to be identified in advance of the president's appearance, will provide “a reliable stream of funding for critical breakthrough research" in the transportation sector.

The goal, the aide continued, is to "ultimately get  our cars and trucks off of oil."

Ironically, the reason the president can propose spending $2 billion on such an effort over the next decade is because we're producing so much oil at the moment, both offshore and onshore, in the Bakken Formation in the Great Plains. The White House estimates the proposal will not increase the deficit because projected federal oil and gas revenues are on the rise.

Not everyone is so enthusiastic about Obama's energy policies, however: activists from 350.org, the group working to block approval of the Keystone XL pipeline permit, issued a press advisory saying "scores of climate activists with colorful signs and banners" plan to protest outside the lab Friday afternoon to suggest the "pipeline represents a move in the opposite direction" from the renewable energy advances Obama will be touting there.

Even before 350.org had released its press release, the White House aide cautioned against reading too much into the president's proposal: "We’re practical about the time horizon, and the notion that we will be able to back out all of the oil from our economy by the end of this term is not necessarily practical."

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Sean Sullivan | March 14, 2013