Candidates' Energy Plans Analyzed

Barack Obama wants to tap into the strategic petroleum reserve to ease gas prices. John McCain wants to allow offshore drilling. The National Journal's Margie Kriz says Obama's plan won't affect oil prices by much, while McCain's offers few near-term benefits.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Well, now we're going truth-squad some energy ideas from both campaigns with Margaret Kriz of the National Journal. She covers energy and environment.

Thanks for joining me.

Ms. MARGARET KRIZ (Correspondent, National Journal): Thank you.

BLOCK: And Margaret, let's start first with this idea from Senator McCain about 45 more nuclear plants by the year 2030. Is that possible? And what sort of public opposition might there be?

Ms. KRIZ: Well, you know, the worst thing that they're going to face on that is its - we don't have the plants to make the sort of structures we're talking about. You don't have 45 holding tanks or holding facilities for these plants. You had to have major construction going on, and at this point there's nothing in the United States that shows that folks are willing to build those kinds of plants.

I think you're seeing a lot more support for nuclear power in a lot of different neighborhoods, particularly in places where there's already one nuclear power plant. But actually, physically building those - even an energy analyst I talked to say that's impossible in that timeframe.

BLOCK: What about what Barack Obama is talking about, his plan to borrow oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. How would that work and what might the effect of that be?

Ms. KRIZ: Well, he's talking about taking out the sweet oil as a support, which is sort of much easier to transfer that into gasoline and then get the gasoline on the market. It sounds like an interesting idea. If you'll increase the amount of gasoline that's available or make it easier to put that gasoline on the market, you could see some of the prices come down a little bit.

But what he's saying is then move it over to put - replace it with heavy crude oil, which takes a lot longer to process into gasoline, with the notion that, well, maybe we won't have a problem later on when we might need that heavy oil. It's also a fast and loose kind of proposal, because I don't think it would actually make a big, big difference in oil prices.

BLOCK: The Obama campaign, though, says, look, Bill Clinton did this in 2000 and prices at the pump went down about 20 percent in two weeks.

Ms. KRIZ: In those days, it was because of the stocks of home-heating oil were low. Prices were high as a consequence because there was a high demand for that oil to be transferred to the home-heating oil market. So he swapped some oil in - part of it was right before the election, Al Gore was running for president. The Republicans blamed or accused Clinton of trying to do this kind of maneuvering with the oil in hopes of lowering prices and then helping Al Gore get in to the White House.

BLOCK: What about offshore drilling? We've heard a lot about that lately. It's a big priority for John McCain saying drill here, drill now. Barack Obama is saying, well, it needs to be limited and environmentally sound that he'd consider it. How much oil is there, which states would agree, and when might this pay off if at all?

Ms. KRIZ: Well, it wouldn't be a near-term thing. It would take at least seven to 10 years before you'd start to see oil coming out of that area and into our gas tanks. You know, Obama is saying drill along, or he might consider as part of a bigger plan a proposal to drill along the southeast, and we're talking about places like Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina.

Virginia has already said that they might consider drilling off their coast. He's also saying Florida as well. There's an Energy Department report that says that even if you were to drill everywhere you could in the lower 48 states, you would not impact oil prices in the United States but maybe a few pennies.

BLOCK: Hmm. Barack Obama has also talked about a big goal: ending oil imports from the Middle East and Venezuela in 10 years. How much of that counts for what U.S. consumption is and could that be done?

Ms. KRIZ: No. Because what we're talking about is oil market. It's a world oil market. And if we were to stop the imports from Venezuela, let's say, then that oil - we'll be taking oil that's someplace else on the market, and then the person who is using that oil - it's a big bathtub. We talk about the oil market as a big bathtub. And so, when you pull some of the oil out of it in one part, or you say that you're not going to take it, it comes from another part. You can't just differentiate where we're going to get the oil from.

BLOCK: Margaret, I think we've been talking about all these things and shooting them down one by one. Is there any idea floating out there that you would say is not a gimmick, is not pandering and could actually work?

Ms. KRIZ: It's very, very hard for us to do anything in the near term. I've talked to some analysts, they said the biggest thing we could do right now is if we're to actually enforce our speed limits. I know there's a lot of controversy about whether people talking about, you know, inflating your tires and making sure your car is in good working order. But demand - lowering demand would be a big way of doing that, of lowering prices. And in fact, the American public lowered demand this summer because of prices got so high and the prices came down.

BLOCK: I've been talking with Margaret Kriz, who covers energy and the environment for the National Journal. Margaret, thanks very much.

Ms. KRIZ: Thank you.

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