McCain more like Democrats than Bush on energy

Bob Tippee

In another display of confusion about energy, Democratic leaders in Congress responded to oil-supply initiatives from the US president and the Republican who would succeed him as though they were identical.

They couldn't be more wrong. But give them time.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) gave a speech in Houston in which he switched position to call for exploration off the East and West Coasts.

McCain upholstered the appeal with harsh criticism of oil exporters and speculators, a restatement of opposition to limited leasing of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and a pitch for his cap-and-trade plan for greenhouse-gas emissions.

The next day, President George W. Bush offered an energy package that differed importantly from McCain's in substance and tone.

Like McCain, Bush called for exploration of federal waters now inaccessible to producers. But he also advocated leasing of the ANWR Coastal Plain, restoration of an oil-shale leasing mechanism, and stimulation of refinery construction.

Bush mentioned the disadvantages of US reliance on foreign oil but did not, as McCain had done, harangue about exporters. Neither did he demonize speculators or veer off into global warming.

While the president did lapse into his vacuous rhetoric about "our addiction to oil," his message on oil supply was rounded and thoughtful. It made McCain's look half-baked and coarse.

Obsessed as they are with "windfall profits" and "price gouging," Democrats saw no difference.

If Bush and McCain were serious about addressing gasoline prices, said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid of Nevada in a typical Democratic response, "They would stop offering the same old ideas meant to pad the pockets of Big Oil and work with Democrats to reduce our dependence on oil, invest in renewable energy sources, crack down on excessive speculation, and stand up to countries colluding to shake down American consumers."

Someone who had heard McCain's speech logically might expect the Arizona senator to feel mostly the same way about Bush's plan.

He is not, of course, the first Republican to lean toward the other party on energy. This helps explain why so much promising federal land produces no oil or gas.

This feature will appear online next on July 4.

(Online June 20, 2008; author's e-mail:

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