Obama: $2B for Clean Auto Research


March 15, 2013—President Obama wants to take some of the profits from the federal government’s oil and gas leases over the next 10 years and funnel them into research on clean automobiles.

The $2 billion Energy Security Trust, announced Friday, will fund research on things like biofuels, electric car batteries, fuel cells and maybe even wireless charging stations like the one from Nissan, shown in the rendering above. It will also fund research on ways to ramp up the growth of natural gas in the transportation sector, according to Huffington Post.

Fracking foes surely won’t like that piece of news, but Obama has stated that he’s an “all of the above” kind of guy when it comes to energy, so it's not that surprising. Plus, there's no denying that transportation in the U.S. is dirty: in 2010 it accounted for 27 percent of carbon emissions.

That $2 billion over a decade is supposed to come from growth in oil and gas lease revenues, and therefore won’t affect the deficit a whit. The U.S. government collects almost $10 billion in revenue a year from those leases.

Some context: Obama included a $90 billion renewable energy boost in the 2009 stimulus package. That money paid for tons of research into electric car batteries, solar (including Solyndra, may it rest in peace) and other renewables; weatherizing 1 million homes; and installing 13 million smart meters. Most of it is now gone.

If you’re feeling a little underwhelmed at this point by the significance of this $2 billion gesture, take heart: Obama might also be giving carbon emissions a promotion of sorts. According to Bloomberg, he may add carbon emissions to the list of environmental factors that federal agencies have to consider before they build a big project like a highway or, oh, an oil pipeline.

Right now federal agencies, under the National Environmental Protection Act, signed into law in 1970 by Pres. Nixon, have to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment before any major project. EIAs look at the project’s potential polluting impacts on air, water and soil and try to minimize or avoid those impacts. (Note: you could be forgiven for thinking carbon emissions was already on that list.) The folks cited by Bloomberg don’t think that adding carbon emissions to the list will deep-six any projects, but it will at least slow them down, make them cleaner and elevate the bad-boy status, you could say, of carbon emissions in the halls of bureaucracy.

IF EIAs sound familiar, they are the ideological parent of California’s EIRs (Environmental Impact Reports), which have famously protected the Golden State from lots of ugly, nasty, polluting stuff (and just as famously thrown NIMBYesque wrenches in the works of reasonable and beneficial projects, which is why Gov. Jerry Brown wants to reform the system that requires them. But that is a piece for another day.).

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