Obama proposes $2 billion plan for clean energy technology research


President Obama delivers remarks on energy at the Argonne National Lab near Chicago, March 15, 2013. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

President Obama on Friday proposed taking $2 billion in royalties the government receives from offshore oil and gas leasing to fund research into clean energy technologies designed to lessen the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels to power cars and trucks.

Obama called for establishing an Energy Security Trust, which would divert $2 billion in federal revenue from oil and gas leasing toward clean energy research. The money would be invested in breakthrough technologies that ultimately, if successful, could remake America’s energy economy by weaning the transportation sector off oil.

“After years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to take control of our energy future,” Obama said. Speaking of scientific innovation, he added, “We have to maintain our edge. . . . We can’t afford to miss these opportunities while the rest of the world races forward.”

Obama sought to cast his clean energy plan as a potential savior for American consumers who for years have faced frustratingly sporadic spikes in gas prices.

“It feels like you’re getting hit with a new tax, coming right out of your pocket,” Obama said of the increases. He added, “The only way to really break this cycle of spiking gas prices — is to shift our cars entirely, our cars and trucks off oil.”

Obama first raised the idea in February’s State of the Union address, but Friday he put a price tag and more concrete details behind the proposal. The fund would support research into what the White House calls “cost-effective technologies,” such as advanced vehicles that run on electricity, homegrown biofuels, fuel cells and domestically produced natural gas.

To make the pitch, Obama traveled here to the Energy Department’s Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago, where he celebrated state-of-the-art research underway here to develop alternative fuels for automobiles. Some of the breakthrough research into advanced battery technology in the 1990s took place at Argonne.

The Energy Security Trust would be just one component of the president’s broad “all-of-the-above” strategy, which includes supporting such alternative energies as wind, solar and geothermal sources, as well as increasing oil and gas development in the United States.

Obama noted that the United States is producing more oil than at any time in the past 15 years and is importing less oil from foreign entities than at any point in the past 20 years.

Obama said he modeled the Energy Security Trust on a proposal advanced by Securing America’s Future Energy, a nonpartisan group headed by such business and military leaders as FedEx chief executive Frederick W. Smith and retired Marine Corps Gen. P.X. Kelley.

“This is not a Democratic idea or a Republican idea,” Obama said. “This is just a smart idea.”

Obama’s plan would require approval from a bitterly divided Congress in which many Republicans have strongly opposed the president’s energy and climate change initiatives over the years.

After details of Obama’s plan emerged Friday morning, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) voiced skepticism about it and suggested that the administration ought to do more to grow domestic oil and gas production.

“For this proposal to even be plausible, oil and gas leasing on federal land would need to increase dramatically,” said the spokesman, Brendan Buck. “Unfortunately, this administration has consistently slowed, delayed and blocked American energy production.”

The Obama administration anticipates the federal government will reap a growing amount of royalties in the coming years because of growth in oil and gas drilling. Obama said the Energy Security Trust would not add “a dime to our deficit.”

A spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), an important voice on energy issues, said Obama “hit on a good idea” with the Energy Security Trust. But her spokesman, Robert Dillon, criticized the plan because it would divert shares of existing royalties and “would not enable new energy production to pay for it.”

“The inevitable result is either deficit spending or the goring of someone’s proverbial ox,” Dillon said.

Congressional Republicans such as Rep. Lamar Smith (Tex.). who chairs the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, also questioned whether such money would be well spent.

“The President wants more money to fund more pet projects, but it is clear that his administration has not been responsible with the taxpayer dollars that have already been spent,” Smith said in a statement.

But Obama insisted the new investments in clean energy research are critical to maintaining America’s competitive edge in scientific discovery with such countries as China, Japan and Germany.

“The nature of America’s miraculous rise has been our drive, our restless spirit, our willingness to reach out to new horizons, our willingness to take risks, our willingness to innovate,” Obama said. We are not satisfied just because this is how things have been.”

Juliet Eilperin in Washington contributed to this report.

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