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Obama talks sequester, energy at federal research lab

At a federally funded research laboratory he said would be impacted by sequestration, President Obama rolled out a new sustainable energy proposal -- but not before warning that the sequester would halt new scientific research.  
 
“Essentially, because of the sequester we’re looking at two years where we don’t start new research,” he told an audience at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, a high-tech research facility that is one of the Department of Energy’s largest for scientific and engineering research.
 
The laboratory encourages collaboration among early-career engineers, including two Obama met with on a tour of one of Argonne’s facilities. And Obama warned that the careers of young scientists would be impacted by cutbacks in science funding.
 
“Imagine right now with all these young scientists and engineers that 20 years from now will be offering solutions to our problems that we can’t even comprehend, as long as we’re still funding these young scientists and engineers,” he said towards the end of his speech.
 
Argonne communications director Matt Howard said the laboratory is bracing itself for $30-$35 million in cuts to its research programs, and that while they are curtailing some construction projects in the short term, the sequester could have significant long-term effects on the research done there.
 
“As the rest of the world’s racing forward, we’re stopping new ideas and new projects,” he said. “That’s going to have a devastating effect.”
 
While Obama has made critical comments about the sequester in the recent past, today’s were less critical of Republicans -- he hardly mentioned them at all, in fact. He had a darkly humorous approach to it, though, joking at one point that the lab had fewer chairs for audience members to sit in because of the cuts.
 
Obama shifted from the sequester to his proposed $2 billion energy research trust by lamenting the spikes in gasoline costs, vulnerable to fluctuations in foreign supply, which also puts a burden on family budgets. 
 
“The only way to really break this cycle of spiking gas prices, the only way to break that cycle for good, is to shift our cars entirely, our cars and trucks, off oil,” he said.
 
The proposed Energy Security Trust, funded by $2 billion over 10 years in royalties from drilling on federally owned lands, would be devoted to researching sustainable technologies like electric cars and domestically produced natural gas.
 
He said using land royalties for this purpose is a way to give back to the American taxpayer.
 
“Let’s take some of our oil and gas revenues from public lands and put it towards research that will benefit the public,” he said.
 
The center’s formation would require congressional approval. 
 
Before he spoke to an audience in the laboratory’s Nanoscale Materials Center, the president took a tour of the lab’s advanced powertrain research facility, where he watched as a specially-outfitted car was subjected to extremely high temperatures in order to test its battery strength.
 
“It’s not every day I get to walk in to a thermal test chamber,” he said, laughing. “I told my girls that I was going to go into a thermal test chamber and they were pretty excited. I told them I was going to come out looking like the Hulk.”