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McCain Lays Out 'Nonpartisan' Energy Options

The presidential hopeful cites alternatives to fossil fuels but also calls for the U.S. to draw on its vast oil and natural gas resources.

Sen. John McCain made a campaign stop in Santa Barbara, the coastal California home of Miller-McCune, to talk about energy issues and the environment on Tuesday, putting forth a number of policy proposals involving technologies that may sound familiar to our readers.

"Our government needs to shake off years of policy paralysis," McCain said in his remarks at the start of the panel discussion at Santa Barbara's Natural History Museum.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee cited wind,solar,photovoltaic technology and nuclear energy as viable alternatives to fossil fuel use that "threatens disastrous change in climate."

However, he renewed his call for new offshore oil drilling in U.S. waters. Santa Barbara was home to a 1969 oil spill from an offshore rig, an environmental disaster that helped spur the first Earth Day.

"When people are hurting and struggling to afford gasoline, food and other necessities, common sense requires that we draw upon America's own vast reserves of oil and natural gas,'' McCain said.

He also made a proposal for a cap-and-trade system with the goal of reducing U.S. energy consumption to 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, "while staying on a course of economic growth."

McCain detailed his proposal, first reported Monday, of a $300 million cash prize from the federal government toward the development of battery power that "leapfrogs" current hybrid technology. "It is a small price to pay," he said.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger joined McCain on the panel and used the opportunity to promote the state's own actions to combat climate change and encourage energy independence and how the state's efforts could be a model for federal programs.

"We don't have to reinvent the wheel. We've done it all in California," he said.

While lending support to McCain's ideas, Schwarzenegger took a shot at the Bush administration, saying that in recent years Europe has far surpassed U.S. efforts on renewable energy.

"What we've been missing here for a long time in the United States is a comprehensive energy policy," Schwarzenegger said.

If elected in November, McCain promised to take a nonpartisan approach toward energy policy. "It's time for doing what's best for America and that means putting our country first and party second," McCain said.

Although McCain may at least publicly be seeing green, independent analysis at shows that some of his proposals may not add up and he could be soft-pedaling the amount of government involvement over a market-driven approach he says he favors.

McCain's voting record on environmental issues has been "wildly erratic," The New Republicreported in March. "We never know where he's going to come from," Debbie Sease, the legislative director of the Sierra Club told the magazine. "As a general rule, on land and conservation issues ... he tends to be pretty good. But he's a doctrinaire conservative on the role of government in protecting people from pollution."

Presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama, campaigning in Las Vegas on Tuesday, took McCain to task for what he deemed a lack of action on environmental issues.

"Yes, he has gone further than some in his party in speaking out on climate change. And that is commendable," Obama said in a statement posted on his Web site. "But time and time again, he has opposed investing in the alternative sources of energy that have helped fuel some of the very same projects and businesses he's highlighting in this campaign."

One of the other panelists at Tuesday's event also expressed skepticism at McCain's ability to address environmental concerns.

Michael Feeney, executive director of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, which works to preserve open spaces and wildlife habitats, said he was appreciative of McCain's general approach but was "less optimistic" than McCain.

Feeney specifically questioned McCain's support for greater nuclear energy investment and that "a crash program on nuclear energy would offer no solution to the disposal of waste."

"I am cautious of signs (the government) will roll back environmental standards," Feeney said, and McCain was painting "too rosy a picture" of his potential solutions.

The biggest barrier to nuclear energy development is a "NIMBY problem," not issues of safety, McCain said. "Europe gets 80 percent of its energy from nuclear."

Matthew Tirrell, dean of the University of California, Santa Barbara College of Engineering and founder of the school's Institute for Energy Efficiency, concurred with McCain that cutting demand should be a chief focus of any government action.

"There are a tremendous number of ways technology can contribute" to energy independence, Tirrell said, urging McCain to support economic incentives for "less obvious" research and development pursuits such as semiconductor-powered lighting and improved control systems at energy plants. "Some can build great businesses pursuing energy efficiency," he said.

Panelist and former CIA director James Woolsey said his main focus on energy independence was the greater use of electricity to power cars. Woolsey said he converted his hybrid Toyota Prius to a plug-in electric power. "It's great not worrying about $5 a gallon gasoline," he said. "You can thumb your nose at the gas stations as you drive by."

In the meantime, McCain may want to read this article from Miller-McCune magazine's debut issue:

A Really Inconvenient Truth
The climate problem can be solved. But tackling it is going to be a lot harder than you've been led to believe.

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