Politics & Government

In another switch, Obama calls for tapping U.S. oil reserve

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama put a spotlight Monday on his energy plans, with a major national-advertising campaign, a rollout of his "New Energy for America" program — and a change in his view about tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

As recently as July 7, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee had said that tapping the 727 million-gallon reserve should be "reserved for a genuine emergency."

But on Monday, Obama, speaking in Lansing, Mich., proposed selling 70 million barrels from the reserve "for less expensive crude, which in the past has lowered gas prices within two weeks." He'd eventually replace light crude with heavier crude oil; light crude is easier to refine into gasoline.

The reserve was last tapped in 2005, when President Bush used some of its supply to ease the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Bush has since ruled out any release of SPR supplies as gasoline prices have risen above $4 a gallon, saying that the reserve is to be used only for emergencies.

Obama's revised position on a key energy issue was his second shift in three days. On Friday, he dropped his opposition to offshore oil drilling, saying that he could back limited drilling if it were part of a comprehensive energy package.

A bipartisan group of 10 senators proposed a sweeping energy plan Friday aimed at cutting energy prices and reducing the United States' dependence on foreign oil. It was both comprehensive and a compromise between standard Republican and Democratic proposals.

Obama praised their plan Monday, noting that it would "invest in renewable fuels and batteries for fuel-efficient cars, help automakers retool and make a real investment in renewable sources of energy."

But, he said, "like all compromises, this one has its drawbacks," notably offshore drilling.

"While I still don't believe that's a meaningful short-term or long-term solution," he said, "I am willing to consider it if it's necessary to actually pass a comprehensive plan."

In his new ad and in a speech in Lansing, Mich., Obama took aim at presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain for being too close to oil interests.

"After one president in the pocket of big oil," the new Obama ad says, "we can't afford another."

McCain's campaign fired back, calling Obama naive and misinformed about energy.

"I believe anyone who says we can achieve energy independence without that — without more nuclear power, without more offshore drilling, without more clean coal — that individual either doesn't have the experience to understand the problem we are faced with or isn't being straightforward with the American people," said Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., who's reportedly on McCain's list of potential running mates. His comments came in a conference call with reporters that the McCain campaign organized.

The McCain campaign noted that Obama had voted in 2005 for the major energy legislation of the decade so far, a bill providing $14.6 billion in tax incentives, many to the energy industry. McCain voted against it.

The bill was the product of four years of negotiations and stonewalling, a classic clash between big energy companies and consumer interests. It offered incentives for nuclear-power, oil and gas companies, but also incentives to develop renewable energy and promote energy efficiency.

While the bill offered tax breaks, most weren't aimed specifically at energy companies. The biggest were for domestic fossil-fuel production and to extend the renewable electricity-production credit, with smaller breaks for more efficient household appliances and alternative motor vehicles and fuels, such as hybrid cars.

Lawmakers from both parties saw it as a good compromise. The bill won overwhelming approval twice. Both times, McCain voted no and Obama voted yes.

At the time McCain said, "this bill does little to address the immediate energy crisis we face in this country. The handouts to big business and oil companies are irresponsible and will be disastrous for the people of Arizona."

Among the provisions in Obama's plan:

_ An emergency energy rebate of up to $1,000 per family. He'd pay for the rebate with a windfall profits tax on oil. The Senate rejected a comprehensive energy bill in June that included such a tax. Obama didn't vote.

_ Invest $150 billion over the next 10 years to boost private efforts to develop clean energy technologies. He doesn't say how the government will pay for the plan.

_ Promote domestic energy production by pushing oil companies to develop the estimated 68 million federal acres that have been leased for potential energy production but aren't being exploited. He didn't discuss offshore drilling, saying only that he'd "work to improve access to untapped and unconventional domestic-energy supplies."

Obama's new energy plan: http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/factsheet_energy_speech_080308.pdf