Thursday, June 26, 2008 | 2 a.m.
John McCain unveiled a comprehensive energy plan in a speech at UNLV on Wednesday that he said would allow the country to achieve “strategic energy independence” in the next 17 years.
Dubbed the “Lexington Project,” for the Revolutionary War site, the plan includes a number of far-reaching measures, including offshore oil drilling and tax credits for owners of low-emission vehicles.
Perhaps most relevant to Nevadans is his proposal to expand nuclear power. If elected, McCain said he would push for building 45 nuclear reactors by 2030 — and a total of 100 new plants overall beyond that.
“It is safe, it is proven and it is essential to America’s energy future,” McCain said, citing the efforts of France and other countries that draw much of their energy from nuclear plants.
Troubling for Nevada, though, are the implications of such a plan. The state is home to Yucca Mountain, the country’s lone proposed dump site for used but still highly radioactive fuel rods. Nevada officials have fought the project for 20 years and say the federal government has used questionable science to justify an unsafe project.
To be sure, President Bush carried Nevada twice, despite his support for Yucca Mountain.
McCain acknowledged the challenges to reviving the nearly moribund nuclear industry and storing the waste safely but provided few specifics on how they would be accomplished. “We will need to recover all the knowledge and skills that have been lost over three stagnant decades in a highly technical field,” he said in his remarks to more than 200 supporters. “As Nevadans are well-aware, we will need to solve complex problems of moving and storing materials that will always need safeguarding.”
The Arizona senator, who also collected $3 million at two private fundraisers and opened a campaign headquarters in Henderson, was considerably less strident in Las Vegas than he was at a campaign stop in Santa Barbara, Calif., on Tuesday, when he took an apparent dig at Nevada.
“It’s not a technological breakthrough that needs to be taken; it’s a NIMBY problem,” he said, using the acronym for “not in my back yard.” “We’ve got to have the guts and courage to do what other countries are doing, and they are reducing the pollution to our environment rather dramatically without any huge pain to anybody.”
McCain’s visit to Las Vegas drew sharp criticism from local surrogates of presidential rival Barack Obama, who outlined his energy plan here Tuesday during a visit to the Las Vegas Springs Preserve.
In a conference call set up by the Democratic National Committee, Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid said McCain “believes Nevada is a wasteland.”
Reid, the son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, added: “While Sen. McCain wants to bury the most toxic substance known to man in our state, Sen. Obama wants to spend billions of dollars to invest in new technologies that will create 5 million new jobs across the country.”
Environmentalists also pounced. The Sierra Club promoted video of an interview posted on YouTube in which McCain says he is uncomfortable with the idea of nuclear waste traveling through his state on its way to Yucca Mountain.
In his visit Tuesday, Obama reiterated his belief that nuclear power should not be ruled out but insisted it is not a viable alternative until concerns about storing the waste safely are resolved. He opposes the Yucca Mountain project but supports research on waste storage and recycling.
McCain and Obama have starkly different views on energy but agree on some general principles. Both candidates support a cap-and-trade system to curb carbon emissions, new regulations to prevent speculators from driving up the price of oil on international energy markets and government investment in renewable energy research. Both also support “clean coal” as a potential energy alternative. McCain said Tuesday that his administration would commit $2 billion a year until 2024 to “refine the techniques and equipment” to burn coal “cleanly.”
Environmentalists are divided over when and even whether “clean coal” — which for them means coal plants that completely capture and safely store greenhouse gas emissions — will be commercially available. The utility industry admits the technology is likely at least a decade off, perhaps two.
Both candidates also make the case that energy independence is intractably linked to national security.
The biggest dust-up has come over the issue of offshore drilling. McCain recently dropped his opposition to the idea and made it the first plank in his energy platform Wednesday.
Though he did not mention his Democratic opponent by name, McCain took a veiled shot at Obama, decrying opponents of his energy proposals as clinging to a “timid litany of limitations.”
On Wednesday, McCain issued a “clean car challenge” to automakers, proposing a consumer tax credit of up to $5,000 for cars with low to zero carbon emissions. McCain has offered a $300 million prize to anyone who can develop a car battery that would surpass existing hybrid or electric power as well.
He also called for a federal standard to “level the playing field for all alcohol fuels (to) break the monopoly of gasoline.” And on that count, McCain draws another contrast to Obama, who supports government subsidies for corn ethanol. McCain opposes them.
In addition to eliminating ethanol subsidies, McCain would kill the tariff the United States now imposes on ethanol imports made from sugar cane, which packs a bigger energy punch than the corn-based fuel and is cheaper to produce. Obama, on the other hand, supports the tariff.
Sun reporter Phoebe Sweet contributed to this report.