Obama wants vehicles off oil

President calls for support of research to break gas habit

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LEMONT, Ill. — Envisioning cars that can go "coast to coast without using a drop of oil," President Barack Obama urged Congress on Friday 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 have to fill their tanks only 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 focused on energy, which 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 bio-engineering, 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 switch grass or other materials. Researchers also would look to improve the use of natural gas as a fuel for cars and trucks.

Obama was greeted by a few dozen people standing in the rain at the Argonne entrance, protesting against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada's tar sands to Texas Gulf Coast refineries. The Obama administration is considering whether to clear the project. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force one that "there's no question" that the types of green energy initiatives the president talked about at Argonne would have more impact on climate change than whether Keystone is built.

"Thousands of miles of pipelines have been built since President Obama took office inside the United States of America and it hasn't had a measurable impact on climate change" Earnest said. "But what has had an impact, measurable impact, on climate change has been, for example, the car rule that the president has put in place that has greatly increased fuel efficiency and reduced carbon emissions."

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, senior Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, did not fully endorse the plan, but has called it "an idea I may agree with."