JACKSONVILLE (AP) _ Barack Obama on Friday dismissed rival John McCain's proposal to allow offshore drilling as an election-year conversion, arguing that it will not lower gas prices for families “this year, next year, five years from now.''
The likely Democratic nominee pledged to keep in place the federal government's 27-year moratorium on offshore drilling, and criticized McCain on changing his position on the matter.
Said Obama: “The politics may have changed but the facts haven't.''
In McCain's 2000 campaign, the Republican said he favored the moratorium. This week, he said he supports lifting it to give states the option to drill, and cited as a reason alleviating the pressure on consumers facing high gas prices.
McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds responded that Obama is rejecting measures needed to lower gas prices. “The American people cannot afford Barack Obama's do-nothing, out-of-touch energy policy,'' Bounds said.
Obama asserted that opening up the U.S. coastline to oil exploration would not give Americans any short-term appreciable savings.
“John McCain's proposal, George Bush's proposal, to drill offshore here in Florida and other places would not provide families any relief this year, next year, five years from now,'' he said from the banks of the St. Johns River. “We can't drill our way out of the problems we're facing,'' he said tapping the podium for emphasis.
Offshore drilling is not popular in many _ if any _ coastal states, particularly Florida, the presidential swing state that decided the 2000 election and where McCain is favored and Obama is looking to gain ground.
Both Obama and McCain are navigating the tricky political terrain around energy policy as rising gas prices infuriate voters who are largely focused on pocketbook issues in a shaky economy.
In announcing his support of lifting the moratorium, McCain said that with gas prices rising and the country chronically dependent on foreign oil, his proposal would “be very helpful in the short term resolving our energy crisis.''
“With gasoline running at more than four bucks a gallon, many do not have the luxury of waiting on the far-off plans of futurists and politicians. … And I believe it is time for the federal government to lift these restrictions and to put our own reserves to use,'' McCain said in a speech this week.
His remarks were aimed at working-class voters, but his proposal no doubt won over big oil companies while infuriating environmentalists.
Obama, for his part, is using an argument similar to what he did during the Democratic primary season when rival Hillary Rodham Clinton followed McCain in calling for a summertime holiday from the federal gas tax.
Now as then, Obama says the proposals are nonsense because they won't help consumers hurting now.
Earlier, in Chicago, Obama said McCain's proposal “makes absolutely no sense at all'' and won't lower gas prices until 2030.
“Even then you're looking at cents on a gallon of gas,'' Obama told Democratic governors at a meeting in his hometown. “Who knows 22 years from now, what would gas be at the pace that we're going right now?''
Instead, Obama said he would invest $150 billion over the next 10 years to create green jobs, particularly in the automotive industry and to improve the electricity grid so people can drive plug-in hybrid vehicles.
Obama discussed the economy with the 16 Democratic governors. They told him how people in their states are suffering, from high energy and food costs, loss of manufacturing jobs and the housing slump.
“There is a deep recession and frankly I believe it's gaining momentum,'' said New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, who backed Obama's primary run against Clinton. “I don't think we're half way through.''
Obama said he would work with them on policies that would help, including a plan to spend billions in taxpayer dollars to build roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects that could create jobs and improve transportation routes. Obama asked if they have projects that were ready to go if they had the money, and there were nods and calls of “Absolutely!'' around the table.
“Within three months, you could start putting people back to work,'' he said.
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin responded: “I think we could put a lot of people back to work in one month. We're ready.''
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