By Ben Geman - 03/07/12 04:58 PM EST
President Obama will use a Wednesday stop in North Carolina, a state he narrowly won in 2008, to call for tax credits and grants aimed at expanding the use of alternative-energy vehicles.
His remarks at a Daimler Trucks North America manufacturing plant will be his third energy-focused address in as many weeks, reflecting an aggressive White House effort to rebut GOP political attacks over gasoline prices.
“Deployment Communities would serve as real-world laboratories, leveraging limited federal resources to develop different models to deploy advanced vehicles at scale,” states a White House summary of the initiative, which is part of Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget plan.
The proposal is aimed at spurring the use of electric vehicles, natural-gas-powered vehicles and other alternative fuels. The White House, in the summary, sought to emphasize its bipartisan roots, noting electric-vehicle legislation sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).
The plan would also support development of natural-gas-refueling “corridors” that would help enable gas-powered trucks to move goods, an idea that Obama recently touted in Las Vegas.
Obama is separately proposing five year’s worth of new tax credits aimed at helping transition the nation’s oil-thirsty heavy-trucking fleets to alternative fuels including natural gas and electricity.
His plan would provide a 50 percent tax credit to cover the costs of the vehicles.
The White House said the plan, combined with an existing Energy Department program that gives technical aid to companies transitioning their commercial fleets away from oil, will help spur manufacturing jobs.
In addition, Obama is pushing for expansion of tax credits for electric vehicles by broadening the range of technologies eligible and boosting the amount from $7,500 to up to $10,000, among other changes.
Obama’s plan reflects the goals of billionaire energy magnate T. Boone Pickens, who has been carrying on a PR campaign that calls for billions of dollars in new tax credits to boost deployment of natural-gas-powered trucks.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) are pushing legislation that would provide the credits, and there’s an earlier companion bill in the House with bipartisan sponsorship.
The bills face heavy pushback from a suite of conservative groups that are influential in GOP circles, such as the Americans for Prosperity and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. The groups say the bills would distort energy markets.
Obama is also proposing expanded Energy Department research and development into advanced batteries, charging technologies, electric drivetrains and other aspects of vehicle electrification.
Obama’s plans drew quick praise from the Energy Security Leadership Council, a group of CEOs and retired military brass that advocate more aggressive measures to curb oil import reliance.
“The president’s proposals on deployment communities, expanding research and development for vehicle technologies, and incentivizing the purchase of light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles through tax credits are all critical to the mission of reducing the threats posed by our nation’s oil dependence,” said retired Gen. P.X. Kelley, the group’s co-chairman and former commandant of the Marine Corps.
Obama on Wednesday will make the economic case for his energy plans, according to the White House.
“While at the Daimler Plant, the president will tour the assembly line, see several of the alternative fuel models built there, and discuss the importance of taking a sustained, all-of-the-above approach on energy, responsibly expanding domestic production of natural gas and oil, which is currently at an eight-year high, improving the efficiency of our cars and trucks, and making the long-term investments in alternatives to oil to provide American families the choices we all deserve,” the White House said.
“This strategy is a win for the economy, a win for energy security, and a win for national security,” the summary of the plan states.