August 04, 2008
LANSING, Michigan (Reuters) - Barack Obama proposed on Monday tapping the strategic oil reserve to help lower gas prices, a reversal of an earlier stance, and called rival John McCain a tool of big oil companies as rising energy costs took center stage in the U.S. presidential campaign.
Obama, celebrating his 47th birthday, released a new ad hitting McCain's contributions from big oil firms. In a Michigan speech, he proposed releasing 70 million barrels of light oil, easier to refine into gasoline, from the emergency U.S. stockpile.
The Democratic senator from Illinois, who also proposed a series of steps to reduce long-term dependence on foreign oil, said the light oil could be replaced later with heavier crude in a swap designed to bring quick relief from high gasoline prices.
McCain fired back in Pennsylvania, criticizing Obama's opposition to nuclear power and broad offshore drilling and calling on Congress and Obama to return to Washington to try to solve the country's growing energy challenges.
"We need more nuclear power. We need clean coal technology. We need to offshore drill for oil and natural gas. We need to drill now," McCain said in Lafayette Hill, a suburb of Philadelphia.
"Anybody who says that we can achieve energy independence without using and increasing these existing energy resources either doesn't have the experience to meet the challenges we face or isn't giving the American people straight talk," he said.
Two daily tracking polls show McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, has wiped out Obama's narrow national lead in the past week and pulled even in the November 4 election race as the two candidates wage an increasingly acrimonious campaign for the White House.
The faltering U.S. economy, including rising gas prices, rank as the top issue for American voters in most polls.
Obama's proposal on the oil reserve was part of a package of steps he outlined to reduce long-term dependence on foreign oil and ease the pain of $4 a gallon gasoline prices.
Obama called for a $7,000 tax credit to help consumers buy fuel-efficient cars, set a goal of requiring 10 percent of U.S. energy comes from renewable sources by the end of his first term and called for ending the need for oil from the Middle East and Venezuela within 10 years.
NEW ENERGY SOURCES
"We have to make a serious, nationwide commitment to developing new sources of energy and we have to do it right away," Obama said in Lansing, Michigan, a battleground state in November's election and home to the struggling U.S. car industry.
The McCain campaign blasted Obama's proposal on the strategic oil reserve, noting he said just weeks ago that it should be used only for genuine emergencies.
"Tapping the strategic oil reserve is not a substitute for a real plan to increase supply through additional drilling and nuclear power," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said.
"The last release of oil from the strategic reserve came in response to Hurricane Katrina, but the only crisis that has developed since Barack Obama last rejected this idea two months ago is a slide in his poll numbers," he said.
Obama's new television advertisement that McCain was "in the pocket" of oil companies. The ad pictured McCain standing with President George W. Bush.
"After one president in the pocket of big oil -- we can't afford another," it says.
The McCain camp said the ad failed to mention McCain opposed a 2005 energy bill that provided billions in tax breaks for energy producers, including oil companies aimed at offering incentives for domestic energy production. Obama voted for the bill, which was backed by Bush.
Obama's reversal on tapping the emergency oil stockpile is his second shift on energy issues in recent days. On Friday he dropped his blanket opposition to offshore oil drilling and signaled he would be open to limited drilling as part of a compromise package aimed at reining in prices.
McCain has made inroads with his calls for opening new areas of U.S. coastline to offshore oil drilling and nuclear power.
In Michigan, Obama also pushed his proposal for a windfall tax on the soaring profits of big oil firms, which will pay for a $1,000 tax rebate for low- and middle-income families to help them cope with high energy prices.
(Additional reporting by Matthew Bigg, writing by John Whitesides, editing by David Wiessler)