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Obama Seeks $2 Billion to Wean Vehicles Off Oil

President Barack Obama
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President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama is pushing Congress to authorize $2 billion over a decade for research on clean-energy technologies that can wean vehicles off oil.

The president proposed an energy security trust in his State of the Union address last month and put the price tag on the idea during a trip Friday to the Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago. The White House said the research would be paid for with revenue from federal oil and gas leases on offshore drilling and would not add to the deficit.

During his remarks at the laboratory, Obama said he expects that Americans will have to fill up their cars half as often by the middle of the next decade.

The money would fund research on breakthrough technologies such as batteries for electric cars and biofuels made from switch grass or other materials. Researchers also would look to improve use of natural gas as a fuel for cars and trucks.

The proposal is modeled after a plan submitted by a group of business executives and former military leaders committed to reducing U.S. oil dependence. The group, Securing America's Future Energy, is headed by FedEx Chairman and CEO Frederick W. Smith and retired Marine Corps Gen. P.X. Kelley. The nonpartisan group says its goal is to "break oil's stranglehold on the transportation sector" through alternatives such as electric cars and heavy-duty trucks fueled by natural gas, but it had suggested a much larger annual investment of $500 million versus the $200 million in the president's plan.

Creating the energy security trust would require congressional approval at a time of partisan divide over energy matters. Obama is trying to appeal to both parties by pitching the policy not just as an environmental issue but as a jobs plan that would help the nation remain a technology leader.

"If a nonpartisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we," Obama said in his State of the Union address. "Let's take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we've put up with for far too long."

There are signs agreement may be possible. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has called it "an idea I may agree with."

Murkowski, the senior Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, did not fully endorse the plan. It is similar to one she has proposed to use revenue from drilling for oil and natural gas on public lands previously off-limits to energy production to pay for research on new technologies.

White House officials said the president's proposal would not require drilling on federal lands or water where it is now prohibited. Instead, they are counting on increased production from existing sites, along with efficiencies from an administration plan to streamline drilling permits. The government collects more than $6 billion a year in royalties from production on federal lands and waters.

Argonne is one of the Energy Department's largest national laboratories for scientific and engineering research, staffed by more than 1,250 scientists and engineers. White House officials said it was chosen as the site of the president's speech because of its tradition of research into vehicle technologies.

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