White House wants $2 billion to give cleaner transport a boost
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama wants Congress to create a $2 billion clean-energy transportation fund using fees paid by oil and gas producers on federal lands, the White House said Wednesday, expanding a plan announced in Obama's State of the Union address.
"This $2 billion investment will support research into a range of cost-effective technologies - like advanced vehicles that run on electricity, homegrown biofuels and domestically produced natural gas - (and) will be funded by revenue generated from federal oil and gas development," according to a White House outline of the initiative.
The size of the fund pales in comparison to a similar initiative Obama backed in his first term, though.
Between 2009 and 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy extended nearly $9 billion in loans to automakers to support cleaner vehicle technologies. Those included a $5.9 billion loan to Ford Motor Company to upgrade facilities and raise the fuel efficiency of its cars.
The new program's aim would be "shifting our cars and trucks off oil," a White House document said, while also saying that the United States would continue to rely on "responsibly produced oil and natural gas."
Obama said in Tuesday night's address that his administration would promote a shift from carbon fuels to emissions-free energy sources that do not promote global warming.
The White House document called on Congress to establish an "Energy Security Trust" that would be administered by the Energy Department.
The five-page memo, entitled "President Obama's blueprint for a clean and secure energy future," touted the administration's "all of the above" strategy that meshes expanded oil and gas production with clean energy investments.
The plan for an Energy Security Trust resembles a proposal from Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, the senior Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Getting cross-party support would be key to passing legislation to make Obama's proposal a reality.
"I intend to get to work on this as soon as possible," Murkowski said in a statement on Wednesday.
Republicans like Murkowski would likely want the White House to expand energy drilling as a price for their support - a concession that would not sit well with some Democrats.
The plan could also struggle at a time of tight budgets since money going into the trust would divert funds otherwise bound for the U.S. Treasury.
The size of the proposed fund would also be dwarfed by the 2009 federal stimulus that provided $27.2 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research and investment.
Some of that money backed the Department of Energy loan guarantee program that aided failed solar panel maker Solyndra.
Still, the plan was applauded by energy security groups that said it was a way to loosen U.S. dependence on oil suppliers in the Middle East.
Secure America's Future Energy, an advocate for domestic energy production, said the president's plan could chip away at the military's reliance on foreign fuel.
"That dependence is a true vulnerability," retired U.S. Marine Corps General James Conway said in a conference call to promote the Energy Security Trust.
The Pentagon is the nation's largest fuel buyer.
(Additional reporting by Nichola Groom in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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