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Posted by on Jun 17, 2008 in Politics | 6 comments

McCain Wants Offshore Drilling Ban To End

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Suggesting that tough times call for tough measures, presumptive GOP Presidential nominee John McCain is calling for ending the federal offshore drilling ban — putting him at odds with environmentalist groups he was wooing and his own 2000 presidential campaign position on the issue.

The call is likely to mean environmentalists who have been counting the days since the Bush administration — considered by many environmental groups to be the worst administrations in American history on environmental matters — could work against him. And it also will likely be added to the list of issues on which Democrats say McCain has changed his positions. The Washington Post reports:

The move is aimed at easing voter anger over rising energy prices by freeing states to open vast stretches of the country’s coastline to oil exploration. In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, nearly 80 percent said soaring prices at the pump are causing them financial hardship, the highest in surveys this decade.

“We must embark on a national mission to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil,” McCain told reporters yesterday. In a speech today, he plans to add that “we have untapped oil reserves of at least 21 billion barrels in the United States. But a broad federal moratorium stands in the way of energy exploration and production. . . . It is time for the federal government to lift these restrictions.”

McCain’s announcement is a reversal of the position he took in his 2000 presidential campaign and a break with environmental activists, even as he attempts to win the support of independents and moderate Democrats. Since becoming the presumptive GOP nominee in March, McCain has presented himself as a friend of the environment by touting his plans to combat global warming and his opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in the Everglades.

Representatives of several environmental groups criticized him for backing an idea they said would endanger the nation’s most environmentally sensitive waters.

This is the quote that could be a harbinger of what McCain can expect in campaign 2008:

Sierra Club political director Cathy Duvall said McCain “is using the environment as a way to portray himself as being different from George Bush. But the reality is that he isn’t.” The group began running radio commercials yesterday that criticize McCain’s environmental record in the battleground state of Ohio.

Democratic presumptive nominee Sen. Barack Obama responded as you would expect with a comment linking McCain’s call to Bush administration policies.

But McCain’s comment did trigger other responses:

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has now made it known that he, too, has a change of heart on this issue and would support offshore drilling, a position not exactly seen as popular in Florida.
–Most New Jersey politicians let it be known that they oppose the idea.

The Financial Times’ Washington correspondents underscored the perception problem this is likely to create for McCain:

Nobody is yet calling John McCain a “flip-flopper”. But the Republican nominee’s increasingly finely balanced efforts to shore up his support among the shrinking Republican base while reaching out to independents is starting to fire up the critics.

On Tuesday morning, he launched an advertisement reminding voters of his repeated clashes with President George W. Bush over climate change, which Mr McCain believes is real and requires urgent action.

In the afternoon, he delivered a speech to the oil industry in Houston, calling for a lifting of the moratorium on offshore drilling in order to reduce petrol prices.

Mr McCain’s shift on offshore drilling – which contrasts with his strong support for upholding the moratorium in his 2000 bid for the Republican nomination – could further chip away at his reputation for being a “straight talker”.

But is McCain’s use of the energy issue a mistake, given all the pitfalls? Perhaps not: U.S. News’ James Pethokoukis talked with some political types and he argues the issue offers McCain 7 ways to beat Obama.

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