Start drilling offshore, McCain says

Presidential candidate, in move that may place him at odds with environmentalists, will propose ending ban on offshore drilling to offset soaring gas prices.

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(CNN) -- Sen. John McCain on Tuesday will propose lifting the ban on offshore drilling as part of his plan to reduce dependence on foreign oil and help combat rising gas prices.

"The stakes are high for our citizens and for our economy, and with gasoline running at more than four bucks a gallon, many do not have the luxury of waiting on the far-off plans of futurists and politicians," McCain will say Tuesday in Houston, Texas, according to excerpts of his speech released by his campaign.

"We have proven 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. And I believe it is time for the federal government to lift these restrictions and to put our own reserves to use."

McCain's plan would let individual states decide whether to explore drilling possibilities.

The proposal could put McCain at odds with environmentalists who say it doesn't fit in with his plans to combat global warning. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a McCain ally, is also opposed to offshore drilling.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist had expressed opposition exploring the coastal waters, but he said this week he supports McCain's plan to lift the moratorium and would not rule out letting his state choose to drill offshore.

"It's the last thing in the world I'd like to do, but I also understand what people are paying at the pump, and I understand the drag it is on our economy," Crist told the St. Petersburg Times. "Something has to be done in a responsible, pragmatic way."

The current law, which has been in effect since 1981, covers most of the country's coastal waters.

Many officials from coastal states oppose offshore drilling because of the risk of oil spills that can spoil beaches. Environmentalists want offshore drilling to stop to protect the oceans from further pollution.

"The next president must be willing to break with the energy policies not just of the current administration, but the administrations that preceded it, and lead a great national campaign to achieve energy security for America," McCain will say Tuesday.

McCain on Monday mentioned the possibility of incentives for states that choose to permit exploration off their coasts, adding that "exploration is a step toward the longer-term goal."

Tuesday's discussion marks the first in a series of talks about America's energy security that McCain will hold during the next two weeks as he lays out his plan to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil.

McCain does oppose drilling in some wilderness regions and says those areas must be left undisturbed.

"When America set aside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, we called it a 'refuge' for a reason," he will say.

McCain on Tuesday also will criticize the energy policy of rival Barack Obama.

"He says that high oil prices are not the problem, but only that they rose too quickly. He's doesn't support new domestic production. He doesn't support new nuclear plants. He doesn't support more traditional use of coal, either," McCain will say.

"So what does Sen. Obama support in energy policy? Well, for starters he supported the energy bill of 2005 - a grab-bag of corporate favors that I opposed. And now he supports new taxes on energy producers. He wants a windfall profits tax on oil, to go along with the new taxes he also plans for coal and natural gas. If the plan sounds familiar, it's because that was President Jimmy Carter's big idea too - and a lot of good it did us," he will say.

McCain will argue that a windfall profits tax will only increase the country's dependence on foreign oil and be an obstacle to domestic exploration.

"I'm all for recycling -- but it's better applied to paper and plastic than to the failed policies of the 1970's," he will say.

Obama on Tuesday blasted McCain for changing his stance on offshore drilling.

"John McCain's support of the moratorium on offshore drilling during his first presidential campaign was certainly laudable, but his decision to completely change his position and tell a group of Houston oil executives exactly what they wanted to hear today was the same Washington politics that has prevented us from achieving energy independence for decades," he said in a written statement.

"It's another example of short-term political posturing from Washington, not the long-term leadership we need to solve our dependence on oil," he said.

Obama said a windfall profits tax would ease the burden of energy costs on working families. He also wants to invest in affordable, renewable energy sources. To top of page

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