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CAMPAIGN '08: RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

McCain promises oil self-reliance for U.S.

He vows freedom from foreign suppliers by 2025. He also pushes nuclear, a touchy topic for his audience.

June 26, 2008|Maeve Reston | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — Sen. John McCain pledged Wednesday that if elected president, he would put the nation on a path toward independence from foreign oil by 2025.

The promise capped more than a week and a half of speeches by the presumptive Republican nominee that focused on increasing the nation's energy efficiency, boosting energy production and countering high gasoline prices.

In an address at the University of Nevada here, McCain did not elaborate on what he would consider independence from foreign suppliers, but campaign officials later said it would mean that the nation would no longer rely on oil as its primary transportation fuel.

McCain also touted his plan to build 45 nuclear reactors by 2030, referring only in vague terms to the roiling debate over storing radioactive waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Many Nevadans oppose the plan to dispose of nuclear waste from power plants at the desert site, which is less than 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Brushing aside his own support for storing waste at the site, McCain said that Nevadans were aware of the need to "solve complex problems of moving and storing materials that will always need safeguarding."

It marked the second time this week that McCain -- who prides himself on his reputation as a political maverick -- discussed a locally touchy energy proposal.

Earlier in the week, he elaborated on his energy plans in Santa Barbara, where his call for lifting the federal moratorium on offshore oil drilling evoked memories of a disastrous 1969 spill.

McCain's Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, on Wednesday again derided many of McCain's energy plans as "meaningless gimmicks," including a proposed summer gas tax holiday.

Speaking at a Chicago news conference, Obama took aim at McCain's recent embrace of offshore drilling, saying it would do little or nothing, particularly in the short run, to reduce gasoline prices at the pump.

In Las Vegas, McCain linked energy policy to national security, saying Americans could not continue enriching their "enemies" through foreign oil purchases.

"By relying upon oil from the Middle East, we not only provide wealth to the sponsors of terror, we provide high-value targets to the terrorists themselves," the Arizona senator said, speaking from a teleprompter to about 200 people in a small lecture hall.

"Across the world are pipelines, refineries, transit routes and terminals for the oil we rely on. And Al Qaeda terrorists know where they are," McCain said.

Promising to break what he described as a stalemate on energy security issues in Washington, he also repeated many of the other energy initiatives he has outlined in recent days: offering consumers a $5,000 tax credit for buying zero-emission cars, instituting a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas emissions and directing $2 billion a year until 2024 to developing clean-coal technology.

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

Times staff writer Michael Finnegan in Chicago contributed to this report.

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