Obama wants $2 billion to get the U.S. off oil. Will Congress agree?

March 15, 2013

President Obama's newest energy proposal is a $2 billion "Energy Security Trust" fund for research into advanced technologies to reduce America's reliance on oil. The fund will be paid for out of royalties from oil and gas drilling over the next 10 years.


A Ford Focus guzzling delicious electrons (Washington Post)

"This is not a Democratic idea or a Republican idea. This is a smart idea," Obama said in remarks at the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago on Friday.

So how would this work, exactly? There's a lot more detail in this fact sheet, which explains that the White House is particularly keen on new R&D to promote "advanced vehicles that run on electricity, homegrown biofuels, fuel cells, and domestically produced natural gas."

Of course, that leaves the big political question — would Congress ever agree to this? On the surface, there's reason for optimism. At least one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, has proposed a similar “Advanced Energy Trust Fund,” paid for out of oil and gas royalties. But there are key differences between the two ideas that could bog the debate down.

For one, Murkowski is proposing to open up new public lands and waters for oil and gas exploration, including 2,000 acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Some of the royalties from this extra drilling would go to the fund. By contrast, Obama isn't proposing opening up any new areas — he simply wants to speed up permitting on existing lands in order to pay for the fund.

What's more, Obama's proposed fund would only go to advanced vehicle R&D. Murkowski's fund would go toward research in a broader array of fields, from vehicles to clean energy to efficiency.

"The president hit on a good idea when he called for a trust fund to promote energy innovation," says Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon. "But unlike Sen. Murkowski’s proposal, he would not enable new energy production to pay for it. The president says he wants to divert a share of the royalties from offshore production that has already been factored into the budget. The inevitable result is either deficit spending or the goring of someone’s proverbial ox, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund."

On the flip side, some energy experts think that the White House could think even bigger when it comes to reducing oil dependency. In theory, advanced biofuels and electric cars can help. But as Chris Nelder points out on Twitter, so can rail and expanded public transit. Or, for that matter, denser development. In other words, shiny new technologies aren't everything.

Further reading:

--U.S. oil imports are falling to their lowest level since 1987.

--As battery prices drop, will electric cars finally catch on?

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