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$2 Billion For Clean Transportation, Emissions Could Drop 80 Percent

President Obama dropped a clean tech bombshell yesterday when he renewed his call for Congress to create a new $2 billion Energy Security Trust to fund cutting edge clean energy research projects, but that wasn’t even the half of it. Yesterday the President also announced that he would deploy a 1970’s-era law to order all federal agencies to consider climate change when new projects come up for review, he called for pulling the whole transportation sector off petroleum, and his Energy Department released a major study that demonstrates the potential for an 80 percent drop in transportation emissions by 2050. What’s he gonna do for an encore?

Obama calls for $2 billion energy security trust

President Obama Courtesy Of whitehouse.gov

The Energy Security Trust

From the get-go in his first term, President Obama has deployed billions of dollars for major cutting-edge clean tech research projects, so from our perspective the $2 billion Energy Security Trust is chump change. Come to think of it, that’s probably his whole point.

The $2 billion is not an annual figure, it would be spread out over ten years. More to the point, the Trust would not be funded by the taxpaying public through general revenues, it would be paid for by a tiny (tiny, tiny) fraction of oil and gas profits through a designated tax that applies only to their operations on public lands.

In addition, traditional energy companies stand to benefit far beyond the amount they chip into the Trust. Chevron, for example, is already beginning to include more clean energy tech in its operations. Shell, which famously dropped its clean tech divisions a few years ago, seems ready to jump back in again. These companies are in a great position to pick the fruits of Energy Security Trust research.

Just to give you a very small idea of how juicy those fruits could be for the diversified energy corporation of the future, consider that the whole booming natural gas fracking industry was made possible by government-funded research into advanced drilling technology.

It’s also worth noting that traditional oil-exporting countries like Saudi Arabia are already investing billions in national clean energy projects in preparation for a far more diversified energy future.

So…if the amount of the Trust is relatively modest and the voting public isn’t paying for it anyways and the energy industry stands to benefit enormously from it and it would enhance our competitiveness in the global energy sector, how could Congress justify turning it down?

Not to get all three dimensional chess-y here, but it seems to us that the President just double-dared Republican leadership in Congress to turn him down.

Nixon To The Rescue

Speaking of dares, President Obama used his State of the Union address to dare Congress to keep sitting on its hands instead of tackling climate change, famously stating that “If Congress doesn’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”

So, that didn’t take long. As reported by Bloomberg News, yesterday the President ordered all federal agencies to include climate change in environmental reviews.

The order was based on a law passed during the Nixon Administration, which directed all federal agencies to consider the impact of proposed projects on air, water and soil.

Those impacts generally apply locally, and the new order would force agencies to consider global effects as well. That  could throw an enormous roadblock across any number of controversial projects including the Keystone XL pipeline as well as proposals to expand coal exports and natural gas exports.

80 Percent Drop in Transportation Emissions

Rounding out yesterday’s activities, the Department of Energy released a report demonstrating the potential for an 80 percent drop in transportation emissions by 2050, while not uncoincidentally the President called for transitioning the entire transportation sector from petroleum to electricity and other forms of clean, renewable energy.

The new study, called Transportation Energy Futures, notes that the transportation sector accounts for 71 percent of U.S. petroleum consumption and a full 33 percent of its carbon emissions.

The study consists of nine coordinated reports covering all vehicles including rail and aircraft, fuel infrastructure including a balanced biomass strategy, and mass transit along with other fuel-saving pathways including telecommuting and tele-shopping.


If this all seems rather over-ambitious, as we mentioned earlier these announcements come on the heels of four years of intensive clean energy activities under Obama’s first term, which in turn builds on several programs that date back to the Bush Administration and earlier.

Or, as Obama put it in his weekly address this morning: “You see, after years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to take control of our energy future.”

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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