Obama: U.S. energy sector must shift away from oil

US President Barack Obama speaks on American energy at the Argonne National Laboratory on March 15, 2013 in Argonne, Illinois.

President Obama today called for a new path to energy sustainability, stressing the need to move away from oil as a source of fuel for automobiles, and reiterating the importance of science and technology research in order to achieve that goal.

Mr. Obama, speaking at the Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago, argued there are few things "more important" than securing the nation's energy future, not just for the sake of "a healthier planet for our kids," but also to protect Americans against spikes in gas prices.

"What people feel first is the price at the pump. It happened last year and the year before that... It's a blow to the family budget, but nothing happens," Mr. Obama said. "The only way to break our gas price spikes is to shift away from oil... We need to fund new technologies to reach that goal."

The president, who lauded the laboratory - which is part of the Energy Department - as an example of the energy innovation he hopes to see more of, warned that sequestration would really hurt the country's ability to remain competitive globally in developing new technologies.

"Because of the sequester we're looking at two years where we don't start new research. And at a time when, you know, every month your, you gotta replace your smart phone because something new has come up, imagine what that means when China and Germany and Japan are all continuing to pump up their basic research and we're just sitting there doing nothing," he said. "We can't afford to miss these opportunities while the rest of the world races forward."

Mr. Obama reiterated his commitment to finding a "balanced" way to reduce the deficit and find an alternative to sequestration - which is why, he said, he's been working with Republicans and Democrats alike to come up with a deal.

"These cuts will harm, not help our economy, they aren't the smart way to cut our deficits, and that's why I'm reaching out to Republicans and Democrats to come together around a balanced approach, a smart phased-in approach to deficit reduction that includes smart spending cuts and entitlement reforms and new revenue and that won't hurt our middle class or slow economic growth," he said. Thhere are some things we need to do together as a country because we can't do it by ourselves. Our kids will benefit from it. We look forward."

At the top of his remarks, the president took the opportunity to crack a sequester-related joke when he noticed there were some audience members who didn't have seats.

"Please feel free to sit down -- I'm sorry. Everybody was standing and I thought Argonne -- one of the effects of the sequester, you had to get rid of chairs," Mr. Obama said to laughter.