By Zack Colman - 07/02/13 06:46 PM EDT
President Obama’s plan for a $2 billion Energy Security Trust is collecting dust on Capitol Hill.
Obama’s proposal, which he made in this year’s State of the Union address, called for using offshore drilling revenue to pay for research into alternative fuel and vehicles.
But the plan would not have authorized new energy exploration in the oceans, disappointing GOP lawmakers who pushed for allowing drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
Republican lawmakers with influence on energy said they’ve yet to hear from the administration about the trust fund plan.
“We haven’t heard much about it, have we? I’ve been waiting for the call,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, recently told The Hill.
The same goes for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), an alternative-vehicle backer and the chief Republican on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz insisted last month that the administration is still behind the trust fund. He said it’s included in the president’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal, and that the White House is awaiting congressional action.
But the idea wasn't mentioned in the climate plan Obama unveiled last week — though he reiterated a broad commitment to alternative fuels and vehicles as a means for reducing carbon emissions.
Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), a senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee, noted the chasm between the GOP and Obama on offshore drilling.
“We’re trying to expand drilling in federal lands and to do it in such a way to increase revenues to the states,” Fleming recently told The Hill. “The president, as you know, talks about all sorts of bills and ideas and concepts that he never puts into writing.”
Obama’s five-year offshore drilling plan, which runs through 2017, doesn’t allow drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. His Interior Department chief, Sally Jewell, flatly rejected the idea of making currently off-limit areas available to drilling as the House Natural Resources Committee was considering an offshore drilling bill last month.
The administration says its Energy Security Trust wouldn’t siphon any offshore drilling revenues from the general Treasury. It maintains that oil-and-gas permitting changes, anticipated gas price increases and more production from already scheduled leases would fund the $2 billion program over a decade.
Republicans say that’s just semantics, because those revenues are slated to go to general Treasury even without the program.
While the president’s plan appears moribund, there’s talk of similar proposals ending up as standalone bills.
Murkowski intends to introduce legislation on the general concept, which she has long advocated — though her idea comes with a significant condition.
Murkowski wants to expand drilling off the coasts and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known as ANWR, to pay for such a research program.
Obama is likely to veto any legislation that expands ANWR drilling, as Democrats have resisted allowing exploration in the sensitive region that’s home to various Arctic species.
“There’s always a political fight to be had. We know ANWR holds the greatest potential for an onshore reservoir recovery,” Robert Dillon, Murkowski’s Energy Committee spokesman, told The Hill. “We’re not going to shy away from fact that the ANWR coastal plain is our best opportunity for increased revenues.”
And Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), a group that promotes energy security, is pushing its framework — on which Obama’s system is loosely based — in the Senate.
The organization’s plan is also predicated on more offshore drilling — including in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, in which drilling has long been restricted.
Gene Gurevich, director of congressional affairs for SAFE, says the group has focused its efforts on the Senate. House Republicans, he said, would be a tougher sell because many oppose sending more money toward alternative fuels and vehicles.
He said there might be some takers in the Senate, especially among Republicans and centrist Democrats who favor more drilling.
“Republicans get more production, Democrats get more R&D (research and development),” he told The Hill in an interview. “Neither one of those things on their own will go anywhere. We’re trying to frame it as an energy security issue.”
— This story was last updated at 4:06 p.m.