Tuesday, March 19, 2013

President pushes $2B alternative-fuel research fund

Story originally appeared on USA Today.

Appears to try to appeal to both parties by pitching plan not just as an environmental issue but as a job-creation plan that would help U.S. remain a technology leader.

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is in Chicago today, talking up the need for a $2-billion Energy Trust Fund he wants to help fund research into how to run the cars and trucks of the future on fuels other than oil.
Obama mentioned his proposal prominently in last month's State of the Union speech to Congress. But he put a price tag on the idea during a speech today at the Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago: $2 billion over 10 years.
The White House said the money would come from earmarking for the fund revenue the federal government collects from leasing offshore oil and gas drilling sites, now some $6 billion per year.
A fact sheet released by the White House today said the "Energy Security Trust" would be designed to "invest in breakthrough research that will make the technologies of the future cheaper and better – technologies that will protect American families from spikes in gas prices and allow us to run our cars and trucks on electricity or homegrown fuels."
It said the research would be into "a range of cost-effective technologies" and mentioned specifically "advanced vehicles that run on electricity, homegrown biofuels, fuel cells and domestically produced natural gas."
Obama's plans for funding additional research into energy efficiency and advanced vehicle technology could run into hurdles, however. Some key members of Congress have raised questions about lagging sales of electric vehicles in the past and concerns have dogged funding put into some battery makers that failed to perform, such as A123 Systems which filed for bankruptcy reorganization last fall and is being sold primarily to a Chinese company.
Significant politically, perhaps, is that the proposal expands the range of technologies to be explored beyond electricity. Republicans have pushed to expand oil and gas drilling on federal land and water, while Obama and many Democrats have worked to boost renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.
Obama appears to have tried to appeal to both parties by pitching the trust plan not just as an environmental issue but as a job-creation plan that would help the United States remain a technology leader.
David Pumphrey, co-director of the Energy and National Security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the proposal is likely to meet resistance in Congress. Obama was shrewd to frame the issue in terms of energy security and reducing oil imports, rather than as an effort to address climate change, but the plan "still takes a revenue stream and directs it into this usage" for clean energy, Pumphrey said. "That's $2 billon that could go to other uses or deficit reduction."
Still, there were signs agreement may be possible. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has called it "an idea I may agree with."
Murkowski, senior Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, did not fully endorse the plan, which is similar to one she has proposed to pay for research on new energy technology from with revenue from drilling for oil and natural gas on public lands that previously were off-limits to energy production.
White House officials told the Associated Press that the plan would not require opening federal lands or water where drilling is now banned; instead, they are counting on increased production from existing sites and streamlining of the permit process.
Argonne is a natural setting for a speech on energy technology, though. In 2012, it was selected for an award of up to $120-million over five years to establish a new Batteries and Energy Storage Hub aimed at advancing next generation battery and energy storage technologies both for cars and the nation's power grid.
The University of Michigan, Dow Chemical, Johnson Controls and Michigan Technological University were part of the Argonne-led Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, which was also supported to set up research hubs in Ann Arbor and Holland, Mich.
Obama is expected to call on Congress to approve the $2-billion Energy Trust Fund this year.