ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE -- U.S. President Barack Obama will try to turn the page on bitterly partisan fights over energy policy on Friday, focusing the first energy speech of his second term on proposing a modest new fund to support research.
Obama will tour the Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago, known for its research into advanced batteries used in electric cars, before speaking about the need to find more ways to wean cars and trucks off oil, White House officials said.
The Democratic president is proposing a fund that will draw $2 billion over 10 years from royalties the government receives from offshore drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf.
The research would be aimed at new ways to lower the cost of vehicles that run on electricity, biofuels, natural gas or other non-oil fuel sources.
"It squirrels away a set of resources that even in a difficult budgetary environment, will give researchers in the private sector certainty," a White House official said before Obama's trip.
The United States has a newfound wealth of oil and natural gas resources made possible by hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," and other drilling advancements, but consumers still face high prices at the pumps because gasoline prices are tied to world markets.
Obama first mentioned the Energy Security Trust fund in his State of the Union address last month, pitching it as a way to "free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we've put up with for far too long."
ODD CHOICE FOR FIRST SPEECH?
By choosing to focus his first energy speech on research -- an issue that appeals equally to Republicans and Democrats, industry and environmental groups -- Obama is seeking to build common ground on energy, which has been a divisive policy issue.
In his first term, Obama pushed for laws that would use market forces to reduce climate-changing carbon pollution, but the "cap and trade" bill was opposed by industry and failed in Congress.
His administration pumped $90 billion in economic stimulus funds into clean energy and "green jobs" projects, helping to dramatically expand renewable energy production in America.
But some projects failed, including a California solar panel maker called Solyndra that had received $527 million in a government loan.
Republicans excoriated his administration for that failure, as well as for delaying approval of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline from Canada.
The White House on Friday called the research fund a common sense proposal developed by retired military and business leaders, including some Republicans.
"There's no reason Republicans in Congress can't work with the president to get this done," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with Obama.
Republican lawmakers have so far been lukewarm to the idea.
"For this proposal to even be plausible, oil and gas leasing on federal land would need to increase dramatically," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner. "Unfortunately, this administration has consistently slowed, delayed, and blocked American energy production."
In his second term, Obama has earned plaudits from environmental groups for making climate change a top priority. He warned lawmakers he would look for ways to take action, if they don't.
Green groups want him to push for new regulations on coal-fired power plants. They also are urging him to reject the Keystone pipeline in a final decision due later this year.
Pipeline activists were planning to protest outside the Argonne laboratory during Obama's visit.
REPUBLICANS SEEK MORE DRILLING
The research trust fund will require consent from Congress, which is grappling with federal budget cuts. Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, had proposed a similar idea. But her version called for expanded drilling, which Obama's proposal does not include.
A Murkowski spokesman said the president's plan relied on royalties that have already been factored into the budget.
"The inevitable result is either deficit spending or the goring of someone's proverbial ox, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund," said Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon.
White House officials said the president's plan would not add to the deficit because they expect leasing revenues to grow in coming years for several reasons, including changes the administration plans to make to leasing policy.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration is willing to work with Congress on the plan.
"If there are different ideas people want to offer up, we'll certainly have a conversation with them about that," he said.