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Obama wants research to wean vehicles off oil

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is pushing Congress to authorize more federally funded research into clean energy technologies that can wean automobiles off oil.

Obama proposed the idea of an energy security trust last month in his State of the Union address, but he was putting a price tag on the idea during a trip Friday to the Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago — $2 billion over 10 years. The White House says the 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 switch grass 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. The nonpartisan group says its goal is to "break oil's stranglehold on the transportation sector" through alternatives such as electric cars and heavy-duty trucks fueled by natural gas, but it had proposed a much larger $3 billion annual investment.

Creation of the trust would require congressional approval at a time of partisan divide over energy issues. Obama tried to appeal to both parties by pitching the policy not just as an environmental issue, but a job-creation plan that would keep the United States as a technology leader.

"If a nonpartisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we," Obama said in his State of the Union address. "Let's take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we've put up with for far too long."

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.

White House officials said the president's proposal would not require drilling on federal lands or water where it is now prohibited. Instead they are counting on increased production from existing sites, along with efficiencies from an administration plan to streamline drilling permits. The government collects more than $6 billion a year in royalties from production on federal lands and waters.

Argonne is one of the Energy Department's largest national laboratories for scientific and engineering research, staffed by more than 1,250 scientists and engineers. White House officials said it was chosen as the site of the president's speech because of its tradition of research into vehicle technologies.

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