LEMONT, Ill. – Envisioning cars that can go “coast to coast without using a drop of oil,” President Barack Obama on Friday urged Congress to authorize spending $2 billion over the next decade to expand research into electric cars and biofuels to wean automobiles off gasoline.
Obama, expanding on an initiative he addressed in his State of the Union speech last month, said the United States must shift its cars and trucks entirely off oil to avoid perpetual fluctuations in gas prices. Citing policies that already require automakers to increase gas mileage, he said he expects that by the middle of the next decade, Americans will only have to fill up their cars half as often.
“We’ve set some achievable but ambitious goals,” Obama said, speaking at Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago.
“The only way to break this cycle of spiking gas prices – the only way to break that cycle for good – is to shift our cars entirely, our cars and trucks, off oil,” the president said.
Friday’s speech, with its focus on energy, was designed to draw attention to what the White House says is one of Obama’s top agenda items for his second term. That focus, however, has been overshadowed as the administration and Congress work on an immigration overhaul, gun legislation and deficit-reduction measures.
Obama cast his proposal as not only a clean energy plan, but as one meant to create opportunities for economic growth.
“I want the next great job-creating breakthroughs, whether it’s in energy or nanotechnology or bioengineering, I want those breakthroughs to be right here in the United States of America, creating American jobs and maintaining our technological lead,” he said.
The initiative, proposing to spend $200 million a year on research, would be paid for with revenue from federal oil and gas leases on offshore drilling and would not add to the deficit.
The money would fund research on “breakthrough” technologies such as batteries for electric cars and biofuels made from switchgrass 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 who are committed to reducing U.S. oil dependence. The group, called Securing America’s Future Energy, is headed by FedEx Corp. Chairman and CEO Frederick W. Smith and retired Marine Corps Gen. P.X. Kelley.
Creation of the trust would require congressional approval at a time of partisan divide over energy issues. 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.
There were signs agreement may be possible. Alaska 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 use revenue from drilling for oil and natural gas on public lands that previously were off-limits to energy production to pay for research on new energy technologies.
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