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McCain Talks Energy, Slams Obama as "Carter"

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) poses for a photograph with supporters after a campaign event at the Hilton Americas Hotel in Houston June 17, 2008. (Reuters)

By Michael D. Shear
HOUSTON -- Speaking in a city famous for oil, Republican Sen. John McCain lashed out at his Democratic rival for wanting to tax the profits of the nation's oil companies, calling it a recycled idea that will increase dependence on foreign energy.

In a speech intended to kick off a lengthy discussion about the nation's energy needs, McCain accused Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of favoring failed energy policies based largely on the imposition of higher taxes.

"If the plan sounds familiar, it's because that was President Jimmy Carter's big idea too -- and a lot of good it did us," McCain said in the speech. "Now as then, all a windfall profits tax will accomplish is to increase our dependence on foreign oil, and hinder exactly the kind of domestic exploration and production we need. I'm all for recycling -- but it's better applied to paper and plastic than to the failed policies of the 1970s."

The attack on Obama came as McCain unveiled his call to lift the federal ban on drilling for oil and natural gas off the nation's coastlines and provide incentives to states that would encourage energy exploration.

"We can do this in ways that are consistent with sensible standards of environmental protection. And in states that choose to permit exploration, there must be an appropriate sharing of benefits between federal and state governments," he said.

McCain got a loud standing ovation from the crowd in Houston, many of whose members likely are connected to the oil companies that turned this city into the metropolis that is has become.

By contrast, the crowd booed loudly when McCain mentioned Obama's support of windfall profits taxes for oil companies, and again when he compared Obama's policies to those of former president Jimmy Carter's.

McCain's proposal to lift the federal drilling ban has infuriated environmental activists, who have been fighting for decades to maintain the 1981 moratorium on offshore drilling, which they say could damage ecologically sensitive waters and is opposed by those who live on the shore as a visual blight.

At the same time he has called for more drilling, McCain also bemoaned the reliance on fossil fuels, saying that the threat of global climate change will force the United States to invest more in renewable and clean energies.

He renewed his call for the U.S. to build more nuclear reactors quickly as a way of reducing the nation's reliance on coal-fired power plants.

"Nuclear power is among the surest ways to gain a clean, abundant, and stable energy supply, as other nations understand," he said. "And if they have the vision to set and carry out great goals in energy policy, then why don't we?"

Much of the rest of the speech sounded like a lecture on the economics of energy policy. Aides say McCain believes the American people need to understand the reasons behind the high price of gas and oil before they can make a choice about who can best deal with it.

In the speech, McCain attempts to explain the oil futures market, the expansion of American oil importation over the past three decades and the formation of the OPEC oil cartel in the Middle East.

"At the time of OPEC's oil embargo, we imported roughly a third of our oil. Now we import two thirds," he said. "At that time, every day, we produced more than nine million barrels of oil domestically. Now America produces five million barrels a day. Five million barrels sounds like a lot until we compare the number with the oil we use, which comes to 20 million barrels, or a quarter of all the oil used every day across the Earth."

Obama responded to McCain's speech by calling his ideas "posturing" and accusing him of changing his position on drilling to satisfy "Houston oil executives."

"Much like his gas tax gimmick that would leave consumers with pennies in savings, opening our coastlines to offshore drilling would take at least a decade to produce any oil at all," Obama said in a statement. "It's another example of short-term political posturing from Washington, not the long-term leadership we need to solve our dependence on oil."

By Michael Shear  |  June 17, 2008; 5:42 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , John McCain  
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