Republican John McCain said Tuesday the federal government should practice the energy efficiency he preaches, pledging as president to switch official vehicles to green technologies and do the same for office buildings.
Expanding upon his ideas to address the nation's energy crisis, the Arizona senator also called for a redesign of the national power grid so power is better distributed where it's needed and the country has the capacity to run electric vehicles that he wants automakers to supply.
"Our federal government is never shy about instructing the American people in good environmental practice. But energy efficiency, like charity, should begin at home," McCain said before conducting an energy round-table at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
McCain drives a 2003 Cadillac CTS, a sedan the Environmental Protection Agency says gets 16 to 24 miles per gallon and emits about 9.6 tons of greenhouse gases annually. When campaigning, he's ferried by the Secret Service using a fleet of Chevrolet Suburbans, a full-size SUV the EPA estimates gets 12 to 20 mpg and emits 9 to 13 tons of greenhouse gases.
Offshore drilling sensitive in California
Among those on the panel was Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a McCain backer who opposes a major element of the candidate's energy strategy — ending a decades-old federal ban on offshore drilling. McCain has said he would leave the decision to the states if the moratorium is lifted.
"John and I both know we can protect our environment and our economy at the same time," Schwarzenegger said in his opening remarks. He did not mention offshore drilling.
"I have every confidence that once Senator McCain is in the White House, America will get back in the game when it comes to a sensible, consistent and forward-looking energy policy," Schwarzenegger added.
Offshore drilling is particularly sensitive in this coastal community 100 miles north of Los Angeles. Oil derricks are visible on the horizon, as are sailboats and the Channel Islands. Some local residents remember a 1969 oil spill that happened after an oil platform blew out six miles offshore.
It dumped an estimated 3 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean, some of which reached area beaches.
Despite emphasizing the optional nature of his proposal, McCain has heard complaints about it throughout his two days of campaigning in California, a Democratic-leaning state that the GOP hopes to put in play in the general election.
"No drill, no spill, no kill," said a sign held aloft by several dozen protesters outside McCain's speech.
"We're really kind of goosey here about oil spills, and we're goosey here about federal drilling and oil lands, which are abundant offshore," Dan Secord, a member of the California Coastal Commission, told McCain during a Santa Barbara fundraiser Monday night. McCain acknowledged offshore drilling would do little to immediately lower record gasoline prices, but he argued that the specter of additional supply would undercut speculation that has driven the cost to more than $4 a gallon.
"Even though it may take some years, the fact that we are exploiting those reserves would have psychological impact that I think is beneficial," the senator said during a town-hall meeting in Fresno.
Obama critical of plan
Obama criticized McCain's claim of a psychological benefit as political posturing.
"In case you're wondering, in Washington-speak what that means is it polls well. It's an example of how Washington tries to convince you that they've done something to make your life better when they really didn't," said Obama, who was campaigning in Las Vegas.
"The American people don't need psychological relief or meaningless gimmicks ... they need real relief that will help them fill up their tanks and put food on the table."
During his round-table discussion, McCain received some of the straight talk for which he has a reputation.
Michael Feeney, executive director of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, was unyielding in his criticism of McCain's call for building 45 nuclear power plants and drilling offshore.
"I don't understand how it's not compromising our environmental standards to propose a crash program to build more nuclear power plants, when the industry has not complied with the federal law that requires the safe disposal for the radioactive waste," Feeney said.
Instead of drilling more, he said, "I personally think we should be saving, as much as possible, the oil resources of this country, because we're going to need those for a long, long time to come."
In his latest proposal, McCain noted the federal government buys 60,000 nonmilitary and non-law enforcement vehicles a year.
McCain also calculated there are about 3.3 billion square feet of federal office space. Lighting and cooling that space makes the federal government the nation's single largest consumer of electricity, he said.
In talking about the energy grid, he called for expanded use of SmartMeters, which give customers a more precise picture of their overall energy consumption. The senator said they would, over time, encourage a more cost-efficient use of power.
During his two-day California swing, McCain was holding fundraisers that were expected to generate $3.5 million for his campaign. McCain's regional finance director told an audience at a Riverside fundraiser that during the past 60 days, the campaign had raised $11.5 million in the state.