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Obama budget plan eyes climate, clean energy

President Barack Obama's first budget plan moves aggressively to tackle climate change and shift the nation from reliance on foreign oil to green energy.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama's first budget plan moves aggressively to tackle climate change and shift the nation from reliance on foreign oil to green energy.

The proposed budget released Thursday by the White House would rely on $15 billion a year, beginning in 2012, from auctioning off carbon pollution permits to help develop clean-energy technologies, such as solar and wind power. But Congress, which has the final say on budgeting, also has yet to write a bill that would regulate heat-trapping gases and collect that money.

Across the government, Obama's commitment to dealing with climate change is apparent.

There's more money at NASA for space-based monitoring of greenhouse gases, expanded support at the Energy Department for finding ways to economically capture carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants, and more money for the Interior Department to mitigate the impact of climate change on public lands and wildlife.

The document also asks Congress to approve an additional $19 million for the Environmental Protection Agency to measure how much climate-related pollution industries are releasing.

The administration "will work expeditiously" to get Congress to approve an 83 percent reduction in global warming emissions by mid-century, the budget document says.

The administration's success on global warming will depend on a second set of priorities outlined in the budget document to reduce the nation's dependence on fossil fuels, including oil and coal, by quickening the transformation to renewable energy and development of technologies to help people use less energy.

The budget would impose a new excise tax and fees on companies that take oil and natural gas from federal waters and reimposes a tax — again largely targeting the oil industry — to pay for cleaning up Superfund sites.

The budget calls for "significant increases" in cutting-edge research into renewable energy, including solar, wind and geothermal sources and ways to produce non-corn ethanol, and eventually a gasoline-like fuel, from plants.

"By investing in groundbreaking research, making homes and businesses more energy efficient and deploying solar, wind, biomass and other clean energy, this budget will help ensure that America once against leads the world in confronting our global economic, energy and climate challenge," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

The budget calls for collecting $646 billion between 2012 and 2019 from the auctioning of greenhouse pollution allowances under a yet-to-be enacted plan to combat climate change. Democratic leaders in Congress hope to produce a climate bill this year, but there is disagreement over whether allowances should be auctioned to given to carbon-intensive industries to hold down costs.

House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio criticized Obama's auction plan, calling it "a carbon tax which will increase taxes on anyone who uses electricity, anyone who drives a car." But White House officials who briefed reporters on the budget said large portions of the money from the auctions would be used to help people offset higher energy costs.

The budget proposal would also significantly boost Environmental Protection Agency funding.

Obama would nearly triple funding for infrastructure projects that protect waterways and drinking water as part of the largest budget request for the EPA in eight years.

He is requesting $10.5 billion for the EPA — a nearly 50 percent increase over what President George Bush asked for last year.

The total includes $3.9 billion for improving the nation’s sewage treatment plants and drinking water systems, as well as projects to protect sources of drinking water.