Surrogates' energy debates are lively in presidential campaign's home stretch

As the 2008 election campaigns entered the home stretch, the two major presidential nominees left energy issue discussions to surrogates. But two such discussions at Washington area forums were lively.

As the 2008 election campaigns entered the home stretch, the two major presidential nominees emphasized general economic concerns and left energy issue discussions to surrogates. But two of those discussions at Washington area forums were lively.

The first featured Virginia's current governor, Democrat Timothy M. Kaine, and one of his predecessors, Republican George Allen, represented the campaigns of Sens. Barack H. Obama and John S. McCain, respectively. They also supplied viewpoints from one state of national energy issues at an Oct. 15 breakfast debate sponsored by the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Virginia's outlook matters because it is the only US East Coast state where a federal Outer Continental Shelf lease sale currently is scheduled (in 2011). It became part of the US Minerals Management Service's 2007-12 OCS leasing plan after its legislators passed a comprehensive state energy plan, including a possible offshore sale, and Kaine signed it into law in 2006.

"Our state could benefit from natural gas production off its coast. We'd like to learn what's out there and then determine whether it should be leased and developed," he said.

Allen, who also was one of Virginia's US senators from 2001 until 2007, said that the state has tried to get out from under a federal OCS moratorium for two years but was repeatedly frustrated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic congressional leaders. "Once it does, Georgia and the Carolinas won't be far behind in wanting to produce what's off their shores," he predicted.

'Use it or lose it'

He and Kaine said that their respective candidates support increasing access to domestic oil and gas resources, including leasing more of the OCS. But Kaine said that Obama would like to see federal oil and gas lessees move more quickly in developing tracts they already hold and suggested that so-called "use it or lose it" legislation might be necessary. Allen responded that such a bill would be redundant since federal leases already have time limits which serve that purpose.

"I don't think Americans are addicted to oil. They're addicted to the freedom to move anywhere at any time, whether with petroleum products, cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel, peanut oil or other alternatives," said Allen. McCain favors an "all of the above" approach, he continued. "He realizes there's no silver bullet, and that we need silver buckshot instead," Allen said.

Kaine said that Obama believes in a balanced approach, with emphasis on alternative and renewable energy R&D. "Drilling for more oil and gas domestically should be part of a total package, but he wants it to be a small part. It's a short-term strategy that's a dead end without alternatives," he said.

Major role for gas

The two major presidential nominees' energy policy advisors also debated at an American Gas Association Natural Gas Roundtable luncheon the next day in Washington. John McCarrick, from the McCain campaign, and L.G. Holstein, from the Obama campaign, agreed that gas will continue to play an important US energy role. They said that the candidates also want domestic production to increase, support opening more of the OCS, but oppose leasing within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Holstein suggested that the biggest energy policy difference between the Obama and McCain campaigns is over nuclear power, which McCain would encourage. Obama would promote gas and realizes that this would require more domestic production, Holstein said.

"We need more nuclear," McCarrick responded. Noting that the International Energy Agency has said that the world will need 1,200-1,400 more nuclear power plants to meet future demand, he said that the United States needs to regain the technological lead in this area.

He also indicated that security may become a problem for some overseas gas suppliers. The prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago expressed concern to McCain recently over Colombian drug cartels infiltrating the country and threatening export infrastructure, McCarrick said.

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