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McCain Wants a Greener Government

By Karl Vick
At the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, John McCain stared into the very mouth of the beast. And he wasn't at the dinosaur exhibit.

Only days after calling for an end to the federal moratorium on off-shore drilling, the presumptive Republican nominee bravely came to the site of the worst derrick spill in U.S. history, the 1969 catastrophe that loosed crude at the rate of 1,000 gallons an hour for a solid month from an offshore Union Oil platform. It coated 35 miles of shoreline in three million gallons of oil, killed 10,000 seabirds and galvanized passage of the National Environmental Policy Act later that year.

"Some NERVE Coming Here To Try To Sell Earth-Desecrating Policies To Us," read a sign amid the protesters clustered outside the museum, where the campaign convened an "Environmental Briefing." Others read: "No More Offshore" and "Not Off Our Coast."

In California, at least, McCain's reversal on the moratorium appears to have overshadowed his efforts to highlight his progressive message of a Republican candidate alarmed by global warming and enthusiastically urging alternatives to fossil fuels.

Polls show Golden State residents, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, covetous of their fabulous coast, and unmoved by the gas prices that have Americans elsewhere loosen their traditional opposition to drilling in sensitive areas.

At the event, McCain proposed a "greening" of the federal government, saying that "energy efficiency, like charity, should begin at home."

"From now on, we're going to make those civilian vehicles flex-fuel capable, plug-in hybrid, or cars fueled by clean natural gas," McCain said. "If our great goal is to move American transportation toward lower carbon emissions, then it should start with the federal fleet."

McCain also called for retrofitting government buildings to make them more energy efficient.

But the Arizona senator found no escape from criticism even at a fundraiser, where a supporter who happens also to sit on the California Coastal Commission took the guest of honor to task: "We're really kind of goosey here about oil spills," Dan Secord said. "And we're goosey here about federal drilling and oil lands, which are abundant offshore.

"So we ask you to look out there to the south and the southeast and remember the greatest environmental catastrophe that's hit this state and then balance that with the notion of winning California. This is a vibrating blue city and a vibrating state, and it's gonna be a tough haul."

Inside the museum, Schwazenegger held his fire on the offshore question, instead pointing out that McCain has said he would allow California to enforce emission controls that the Bush Administration has moved to strike down. The Terminator also lauded McCain's plan to make the federal government a green giant, by purchasing flex-fuel, hybrids and natural gas vehicles for its civilian fleet and enforcing energy efficiency in its 3.3 million square feet of office space.

"This is the responsibility of government to be a perfect example," said the Republican governor. "We have done all those things in California and it would be great if they were done at the federal level."

Acting as moderator, McCain lamented the lack of a national energy policy without mentioning President Bush by name. Instead, looking forward, he drew out his energy advisor, former CIA director James Woolsey, on the money he saves driving a Prius adapted to plug-in (as sold by Toyota, the vehicle charges itself on the road). Woolsey said he's getting over 100 miles a gallon, and paying 2 cents a mile. And because plug-ins charge overnight, when demand on the electricity grid is low, two thirds of the cars in California could be plug-ins before the increase in demand would require construction of a new power plant, he said.

But there was a skeptic on the stage.

"I guess I'm a little less optimistic about technology solving our problems," said Michael Feeney, executive director of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, a group that buys sensitive lands to preserve them. To applause, he added: "I'm a little less optimistic about the federal government, particularly the Congress, being able to put its arms around these issues in a productive way."

Feeney criticized McCain for promoting nuclear energy, though some environmentalists have come around on it as cleaner alternative to coal.

"It makes me nervous to think about those who are proposing to drain America's offshore oil and gas reserves as quick as possible in hopes of driving down the price of gasoline," Feeney said, noting that it would take more than a decade to bring production online, a point McCain conceded at a town hall meeting a day earlier in Fresno: "Even though it may take some years, the fact that we are exploiting those reserves would have psychological impact that I think is beneficial."

The Barack Obama campaign gleefully jumped on the remark, pointing it out to reporters in e-mails.

Feeney was more diplomatic.
"I appreciate the spirit that you're trying to promote," he told McCain. "But I think we have to be very cautious about what I see as signs that we need to roll back environmental standards.
And I also think that I'd like to hear more national leaders telling American people that there is going to be pain and disruption and adjustment to our way of life in this country to address these challenges.

"I think too rosy of a face is being put on. I don't think we can solve these problems and still, as happened to me yesterday, almost get run over in a Trader Joe's parking lot, as she was driving her 7,000 pound Yukon Denali to go pick up her two bags of groceries. That can't happen any more. And that's the way we need to drive things, to make people realize that all of us have to change, and it is going to be more expensive. And we're not going to see $2.50 gasoline in this country again, and we shouldn't."

By Washington Post Editors  |  June 24, 2008; 2:36 PM ET
Categories:  John McCain  
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