McCain Talks Energy in California
By Karl Vick
FRESNO, Calif. -- Sen. John McCain brought his energy campaign to the charmless acres of California's Central Valley today--the flat, hot expanses of industrial farms where motorists inured to the stink of fertilizer and manure have found cause for violent complaint with unleaded at $4.69 a gallon.
"My gas went from $180 a month to $450 a month," said a school teacher who commutes 50 miles each way to work, addressing the presumptive GOP nominee at a town hall meeting at California State University - Fresno. "I don't see an immediate answer to that. Do you?"
No, McCain replied, except perhaps for the notion of a "much derided" gas tax holiday that he and Sen. Hillary Clinton both embraced. But beyond the immediate, the Arizona Republican offered a brimming basket of ideas to nurse the country away from dependence on foreign oil, especially the quarter of petroleum imports that come from the Middle East and Venezuela, transactions that he said can amount to aiding our enemies. "There's a national security element in this."
Electric cars are the way of the future, McCain declared, and to underscore the point met reporters after the meeting beside a battery-powered Tesla Roadster. The sports car goes from zero to 60 in less than four seconds and produces zero tailpipe emissions, but retails for $100,000. The manufacturer compares it to cell phones that cost $2,000 in 1985.
"And now they're giving them away free," McCain pointed out. To hurry the process along, he proposed a $300 million incentive to any manufacturer who produces battery technology that leapfrogs the state of the art.
The candidate also proposed a $5,000 credit to any consumer who buys a zero-emission car, a "Clean Car Challenge" that would both broaden and simplify the maze of incentives offered to hybrid purchasers in the current tax code. "They're the handiwork of lobbyists, with all the inconsistency and irrationality that involves," McCain said.
McCain the Reformer found lavish grazing in the fields of energy policy. "Corn-based ethanol, thanks to the money and influence of lobbyists, has been a case study in the law of unintended consequences," he said. "Our government pays to subsidize corn-based ethanol even as it collects tariffs that prevent consumers from benefiting from other kinds of ethanol, such as sugarcane-based ethanol from Brazil. The result is that Americans take the financial hit coming and going. As taxpayers, we foot the bill for the enormous subsides paid to corn producers. And as consumers, we pay extra at the pump because of government barriers to cheaper products from abroad."
He drew contrasts with presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama, who as a Senator from Illinois has promoted ethanol on behalf of downstate farmers, and noted that he also differs with Obama on nuclear power. McCain says we should be building nuclear plants again, as yet one more alternative to oil imports.
"Hydrogen is one of the future sources of energy in America," he added. "It's clean. It's good. But there's a lot of challenges. That's why we've got to let a thousand flowers blossom: Wind, tide, solar..."
McCain said the urgency of it all prompted him to reverse his position on off-shore drilling, last week calling for an end to a federal moratorium that is grounded in environmental concerns. He emphasized that drilling decisions should be left to states, but in answer to a question said he remains skeptical that drilling can be done safely in the "pristine" Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (commonly called ANWR), even though Alaskans overwhelmingly favor drilling there.
"Is the California coast any less pristine?" a reporter asked, invoking the 1969 spill off Santa Barbara, where McCain travels next.
"First of all it's called the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for a reason: it's a refuge," the candidate replied. Furthermore, he said, technological improvements over the decades allowed offshore rigs to survive intact despite onslaughts as strong as Hurricane Katrina.
"When gas is $4 a gallon or higher, we have to take steps."
Posted at 4:01 PM ET on Jun 23, 2008
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