MIAMI — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a veiled swipe at Republican presidential hopeful John McCain on Thursday when he said at a climate conference here that anyone suggesting offshore oil drilling could bring down gas prices was "blowing smoke."
The remark was also a dig at his host, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who riled environmentalists, tourism promoters and the state's political leaders last week when he voiced support for McCain's proposal to lift bans on exploring for oil off the coasts of California, Florida and the Eastern Seaboard.
McCain and Crist, whom the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is rumored to be considering as his running mate, have come in for criticism for backing exploration that many fear could pollute the coastal playgrounds that are vital to tourism-dependent economies.
Crist, who thrilled environmentalists Tuesday with the announcement of a major land purchase to speed restoration of the Everglades, has since modified his stance on offshore drilling to say he would support it only if guarantees were in place that no environmental harm would result.
From his podium at the conference, Schwarzenegger said, "Politicians have been throwing around all kinds of ideas in response to the skyrocketing energy prices, from the rethinking of nuclear power to pushing biofuels and more renewables and ending the ban on offshore drilling. . . . But anyone who tells you this would bring down gas prices any time soon is blowing smoke."
Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear later contacted The Times and other media to say the governor's remarks were not aimed at McCain or Crist.
The Austrian-born governor also chastised U.S. energy consumers for lagging behind his state and Europe in using renewable resources and likened the challenge of combating global warming to defeating communism and putting a man on the moon.
Schwarzenegger also touted California's leading role in the green revolution, repeating pledges to have the state using renewable sources for a third of its electrical generation by 2020 and to have 7 million more hybrid and electric vehicles on the road by then.
The skyrocketing cost of America's "oil addiction" threatens the nation's energy security and its image in the world as an innovative leader in science and engineering, he told Crist's second annual forum aimed at bringing the fight against climate change down to the grass-roots level.
"Working together we can create a comprehensive, innovative energy policy that helps consumers, protects our planet and builds a stronger and more secure America," Schwarzenegger said. "We can make America No. 1 in fighting global warming."
He called it "shameful" that the United States gets less than 2% of its energy from renewable sources, compared to 12% in California. Denmark gets 20% of its power from wind and Germany and Brazil lead respectively in the development of solar power and ethanol, the governor noted.
Washington has been "unwilling to hold automakers' or oil companies' feet to the fire," he said, noting that the average passenger vehicle in the U.S. gets less than 25 mpg.
"The Model T did better than that," Schwarzenegger said. "But since the Model T disappeared, America summoned the political will to put a man on the moon, end legal discrimination and bring down the Berlin Wall."