Obama seeks to divert $2b to clean-vehicle program

President Obama spoke at Argonne National Laboratory about his plan so use revenue from oil and gas leases.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
President Obama spoke at Argonne National Laboratory about his plan so use revenue from oil and gas leases.

WASHINGTON — With few options available for financing his clean-energy ambitions, President Obama on Friday proposed diverting $2 billion in revenue from federal oil and gas leases over the next decade to pay for research on advanced cleaner-running vehicles.

Obama visited the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago to tour its state-of-the-art research facilities and to promote his idea, first proposed in last month’s State of the Union address, to use oil and gas money to find ways to replace hydrocarbons as the primary fuel for the nation’s cars, trucks and buses.

The idea enjoys some bipartisan and business support but is likely to encounter strong resistance from congressional Republicans, who will portray it as a tax on energy producers. The White House says the money will come from growth in drilling revenue from leases on public lands and waters over the next decade and is not a new tax.


Obama presented the proposal as part of his ‘‘all-of-the-above energy strategy,’’ which includes an increase in oil and gas development; support for nonpolluting sources like wind, solar, and geothermal energy; loan guarantees for new nuclear plants; and research into long-term alternatives to fossil fuels.

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Obama has given up on moving comprehensive climate change legislation through Congress and has ruled out a carbon tax as a way to finance the development of alternative energy sources, so he is pursuing smaller-scale projects that do not require new sources of revenue.

The Energy Security Trust, as he calls his proposal to shift oil and gas royalties to alternative energy research, is one of those projects.

A White House official, who discussed the president’s proposal on the condition of anonymity in advance of Friday’s speech, said the energy trust was a central part of the administration’s economic strategy.

‘‘In the State of the Union, he asked what can we do to make America a magnet for the jobs of future,’’ the official said in a telephone briefing Thursday afternoon. ‘‘One key answer is to ensure that the United States is and remains at the cutting edge of breakthrough technologies that will get our economy off oil.’’


Obama came to office with grand ambitions of remaking the nation’s energy economy and tackling climate change. His stimulus package included $90 billion for clean-energy research, but most of that money is gone, and Congress is unlikely to finance such work at anything like those levels in the future.

The Argonne National Laboratory, which has done groundbreaking research in vehicle battery technology that has helped jump-start the electric car industry in America, received a large chunk of the stimulus money.

Now, it is facing reductions under the mandatory budget cuts known as the sequester. The laboratory’s director, Eric D. Isaacs,warned this week that the spending cuts would have a devastating impact as ‘‘the nation begins to feel the loss of important new scientific ideas that now will not be explored, and of brilliant young scientists who now will take their talents overseas or perhaps even abandon research entirely.’’

In an article in The Atlantic written with the directors of two other Department of Energy labs, Isaacs said that the sequester cuts would force all new programs and research initiatives to be canceled, probably for at least two years.

White House officials said the president hoped to use some of the added revenue from the nation’s oil and gas boom to replace basic research money lost by the mandatory budget cuts and the expiration of the stimulus funds.


In a separate development Friday, the House passed Republican legislation that would end or consolidate dozens of duplicative job training programs with the objective of making it easier for people to gain the skills they need in a changing job market. It’s a goal that Obama says he shares while disagreeing with the way the GOP would do it.

The bill would also increase employers’ influence in who gets job training grants.

While there is widespread agreement that current federal job training programs are inefficient and overlapping, Democrats voted overwhelmingly against the bill, saying they were locked out of the bill-writing process and that the bill would eliminate programs tailored to serve veterans, the disabled, ex-prisoners, and other underserved populations.

However, Republicans denied that the bill would hurt those most in need of help, saying it requires that funds be reserved for veterans, disadvantaged youth, and other vulnerable groups.

The vote was 215 to 202, sending the bill to the Senate where the Democratic majority is likely to take a different approach to job training reform.

Obama, in his State of the Union address last year, said he wanted to ‘‘cut through the maze of confusing training programs’’ so people have a direct path to the help they require. But the White House said it strongly opposed the House bill, saying consolidation could leave some people without needed assistance.

‘The current system is inefficient and ineffective,’’ Education and the Workforce Committee chairman John Kline, a Minnesota Republican, said in explaining the legislation that would eliminate or consolidate 35 federal programs and create a Workforce Investment Fund to act as a single conduit of support for employers and job seekers.

Onerous rules prevent workers from accessing the training they need when they need it, and taxpayer dollars are being spent with little accountability, he said, and a bloated bureaucracy is standing between workers and the support they need.