President Obama called on Congress Friday to earmark $2 billion over the next decade to support advanced research into clean-energy vehicles that run on domestically produced natural gas, electricity and homegrown biofuels.

The president unveiled his plan for an “Energy Security Trust” in a speech at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, which researches alternative vehicle technologies. “America is becoming a global leader in advanced vehicles. Last year General Motors sold more hybrid vehicles than ever before,” Obama said. The nation’s goal is to “shift our cars off of oil entirely.”

“This is not a Democratic idea or a Republican idea. It’s just a smart idea,” he said. It’s not just about saving money; it’s about protecting the environment and national security, Obama said.

Obama first proposed the creation of a $2 billion “Energy Security Fund” in the State of the Union address in February, saying it would support research into a host of technologies, including vehicles that run on natural gas, electricity and biofuels. He’s quick to admit, though, that the idea for the fund was not his, but rather it was the brainchild of Securing America’s Energy Future (SAFE). The new research fund would require the approval of Congress.

The Obama program would be funded by royalties from offshore oil and gas production, Obama said at the time (see NGI, Feb. 18). In contrast, SAFE recommended funding the research efforts from revenues generated by new, rather than existing offshore drilling. The funding will support scientists who are developing engines that are more fuel efficient, Obama said.

However, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) criticized the trust fund plan, primarily because it would be funded by offshore oil and gas royalties. Landrieu, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and other members of the Louisiana delegation have been lobbying hard to increase the share of royalty revenues for the state and other Gulf Coast states instead of having the funds go to the federal Treasury or a newly created trust fund.

In another development, according to one source, Obama is expected to instruct agencies within the next few weeks to begin using the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to combat climate change. “This could formalize a shift in federal environmental reviews of national infrastructure…We see [the] greatest potential risks to coal export projects and additional uncertainty for LNG [liquefied natural gas] exports. Domestic pipeline infrastructure reviews may not change significantly,” said analysts with ClearView Energy Partners LLC in Washington, DC.

However, another veteran Washington watcher said this was standard practice already. “Many, if not all, of the federal agencies are looking at climate change in their NEPA reviews.” The president would just be reaffirming existing practice.

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