Candidates' Plans to Combat High Energy Costs

The soaring price of gasoline has captured everyone's attention, especially the presidential candidates. Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama have been busy swapping charges about who has the better plan to ease the burden of high fuel costs. McCain's plan focuses on more oil drilling, while Obama calls for harnessing alternative energy.

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The high price of gasoline is pumping up the volume of the presidential campaign. Barack Obama and John McCain are squabbling over energy policies. Obama championed alternative forms of energy in Las Vegas yesterday, and McCain was in California explaining his plans for increased oil drilling.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: No one could accuse John McCain of limiting himself to friendly venues. Just one week after calling for renewed offshore oil drilling, McCain took that message to one of the scenic shorelines - Santa Barbara, California.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): When people are hurting and struggling to afford gasoline, food and other necessities, common sense requires that we draw upon American's own vast reserves of oil and natural gas.

HORSLEY: Despite the applause, many residents are still deeply suspicious of offshore drilling. A protestor outside McCain's speech held a sign saying no drill, no spill, no kill. A 1969 spill off the coast of Santa Barbara dumped some three million gallons of oil into the ocean. It fouled local beaches and awakened an environmental consciousness that's still strong on the West Coast.

Executive Director David Landecker of the local Environmental Defense Center strongly opposes McCain's push for renewed oil drilling, although he does give the senator some credit for making his pitch where he did.

Mr. DAVID LANDECKER (Executive Director, Environmental Defense Center): It would be very easy to talk about that from the middle of the country and going the other direction. For him to come here and face the people who have been fighting oil development for the past 40 years, at least shows some nerve.

HORSLEY: Still, Landecker says he'd prefer to see the nation to invest in alternative forms of energy, like wind and solar power. That's the plan Barack Obama outlined yesterday, at a Las Vegas area center that showcases sustainable technology.

Obama says harnessing the full potential of alternative energy will take leadership from Washington, something he says McCain has not provided.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): He voted against biofuels, against solar power, against wind power, against a 2005 energy bill that represented the largest ever investment in renewable sources of energy.

HORSLEY: Obama wants the federal government to spend $15 billion a year for the next decade to promote alternative energy sources. McCain says the government has thrown around enough money subsidizing special interests, although he does support a more modest $2 billion annual investment in cleaner burning coal.

McCain acknowledged, this week, his offshore drilling plan would not produce any additional oil for years. But, he said, it could have a beneficial psychological effect. Obama mocked that idea, calling it Washington speak for it polls well.

Sen. OBAMA: American people don't need psychological relief or meaningless gimmicks to get politicians through the next election cycle, they need real relief that will help them fill up their tanks and put food on their table.

HORSLEY: McCain's economic adviser later explained by a psychological impact, the candidate meant offshore drilling could lower prices on the futures market. McCain also said the government should use its purchasing power to promote energy efficiency, buying fuel-efficient vehicles and retrofitting federal offices to use less electricity.

He's proposed the federal government offer a $300 million prize for developing a cheaper battery to power the next generation of electric cars. And he wants to double the number of nuclear power plants, although he acknowledged last week in Minnesota, the U.S. still has to address the challenge of storing nuclear waste.

Sen. MCCAIN: I've always favored Yucca Mountain. Now, I understand that the legal challenges have to be addressed. But if it's not Yucca Mountain, then it's got to be some place.

HORSLEY: McCain will have another chance to make his case to a potentially hostile audience today, when he delivers an energy speech in Las Vegas, about 80 miles from Yucca Mountain.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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