Obama seeks path to trade deals sought by biggest U.S. companies

State of the Union address update

‘Heed’ Call

“If we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement –- and fix our broken immigration system,” he said.

Business groups have signed on to the effort, most notably the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which struck an accord with organized labor last year for a new guest-worker program that was included in a Senate-passed bill, and technology companies, which support changes to the H-1B visa program for highly skilled workers.

Obama’s immigration comments were light on details as he tried to leave legislative space for a compromise. House Republicans will meet at a policy retreat this week to discuss their principles for a piecemeal approach to the issue, in contrast to the comprehensive Senate bill.

FedEx Corp.

Obama endorsed a call supported by FedEx Corp. Chief Executive Officer Fred Smith to create an energy security trust, saying he’d fund the U.S. Energy Department account with $2 billion to pay for electric vehicles, hydrogen fueling for cars, biofuels and U.S.-produced natural gas.

He also gave a nod to one of President George W. Bush’s pet projects, biofuels. Bush frequently mentioned switchgrass, a renewable plant, as a potential source to make biofuel. Obama proposed “fuel-neutral” ways to make vehicles cleaner, extending a tax credit for including cellulosic biofuels that expired Dec. 31 and a tax credit for infrastructure to also supply hydrogen, natural gas and electricity to cars.

Obama urged Congress to pass legislation to curb abusive patent litigation that has received bipartisan support and is being pushed by some large technology companies like Google Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. The House passed a measure in December and the Senate is considering a similar proposal.

Patent Lawsuits

The goal is to limit suits by companies that buy up broadly worded patents covering the use of everyday technology and then demand royalties from anyone using things like wireless Internet. These entities, sometimes called “trolls,” filed 19 percent of all infringement lawsuits between 2007 and 2011, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

The president’s call for new incentives for trucks that run on natural gas builds on a growing trend of companies buying trucks and building fueling stations for a cheaper alternative to diesel. United Parcel Service Inc. last year announced plans to buy almost 1,000 heavy-duty trucks for package delivery before the end of 2014.

The natural-gas truck push has also captured the attention of investors like T. Boone Pickens, whose Clean Energy Fuels Corp. is building a network of liquefied natural-gas fueling stations. Trucks that run on the fuel are being sold by Daimler AG’s Freightliner unit. Westport Innovations Inc. is a leading supplier of engines.

Obama also alluded to regulations that will induce fuel- economy improvements throughout the truck fleet to reduce greenhouse gases. A first-ever round of improvements was ordered in 2011, projected to save 530 million barrels of oil by 2018. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department are in the early stages of drafting the next round of targets, for 2019 and beyond.


--With assistance from Mike Dorning, Angela Greiling Keane, Brian Wingfield, Jeff Plungis, Susan Decker, Kathleen Hunter and Laura Litvan in Washington and Margaret Collins in New York. Editors: Jodi Schneider, Robin Meszoly

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