At times, it seemed like Sen. Barack Obama was talking to a group of some 150 guests at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History on June 24, touting incentives to entrepreneurs who create zero-emission vehicles and replace the federal government’s vehicle fleet with fuel-efficient cars.
But it was John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, announcing his plans for a more fuel-conscious and green America.
But McCain didn’t just talk about gas prices and utility costs. He said his administration would look into nuclear power as an alternative energy source.
“Nations across Europe and Asia are building nuclear power plants … America, too, must make more use of this clean, efficient and proven source of power,” McCain said, followed by a round of applause.
McCain spoke as one of five panelists, which included Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former CIA Director James Woolsey, to a cramped room filled with a mostly gray-haired crowd.
With dozens of protesters – mostly against offshore drilling but some against McCain’s anti-abortion stance – outside the museum, McCain spoke little about drilling off the U.S. coast. He did say, however, that the country must “draw upon America’s own vast resources of oil and natural gas” to meet the country’s fuel needs.
One panelist, however, disagreed and was quick to tell McCain so. Michael Feeney, the executive director of the Santa Barbara County Land Trust, said during the panel that drilling off America’s coast would not affect fuel prices for another decade at least. The comment parallels recent criticism in the media of offshore oil drilling.
“It makes me nervous to think [about drilling here],” Feeney said. He also commented that tapping into America’s oil would only reduce dependence on foreign oil from 70 percent to 67 percent.
McCain proposed that the federal government lead by example when it comes to energy conservation. He said that every year, the U.S. government buys more than 60,000 cars and other non-military or law-enforcement vehicles.
“From now on, we’re going to make those civilian vehicles flex-fuel capable, plug-in hybrids, or cars fueled by natural gas,” he said. Ironically, McCain and Schwarzenegger both left the event in large sport-utility vehicles.
The Arizona senator kept with his energy-efficient theme by embracing sustainable building practices for the federal government’s 3.3 million square feet of office space.
“Add it all up and that makes the federal government the largest consumer of electricity in the world,” he said. “This represents another enormous opportunity that my administration will take … We can save taxpayers billions of dollars in energy costs” by building green.
Earlier, McCain announced a $300 million prize to anyone who can produce a car battery that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog current plug-in hybrids or electric cars. He also proposed a $5,000 tax credit to anyone who buys a zero- or near-zero-emission car.
McCain commended Schwarzenegger for leading California on a path to cleaner energy and for reaching across party lines to do so, which he also committed to doing as president.
McCain is the latest presidential candidate to visit Santa Barbara. Obama spoke at Santa Barbara City College in September of last year to a crowd of several thousand. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. followed in
January when she spoke to about 1,000 supporters at the University of California, Santa Barbara. McCain was last in the Tri-Counties on Jan. 30 when he participated in the Republican debate at the Reagan Library