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Energy Issues High on Presidential Candidates' Agendas


Gasoline prices and dwindling oil supplies have made energy a key issue in the U.S. presidential race. Both candidates are stressing a reduction in the nation's dependence on foreign oil, especially from nations hostile to U.S. policies. Democrat Barack Obama wants more investment in alternative energy. Republican John McCain is pushing for more offshore oil drilling and nuclear energy among other ideas. VOA's Brian Wagner compares both candidates' energy proposals.

The latest energy crisis may be over. Gasoline prices are down from summer highs, but voters say energy is still a critical issue.

"I think the fact that oil prices have come down so much means that there will not be the financing for the alternative programs that they [the candidates] are talking about," Peter Ranger said.

"They [U.S. oil companies] should have enough so we don't have to go overseas, to the Middle East," Ronaldo said. "We should not be buying oil from them."

Both candidates want the U.S. to stop buying oil from unfriendly nations. Senator Obama says oil sales only help governments in Russia, Venezuela and Iran.

"So we've got to deal with that right away. That's why I've called for an investment of $15 billion a year over 10 years," Senator Barack Obama said. "Our goal should be, in 10 years time, we are free of dependence on Middle Eastern oil."

Obama's plan would call for government investment in new technologies to harness power from the sun, wind and oceans, for example.

Energy researchers, like Rick Driscoll at Florida Atlantic University say that money could help.

"It certainly blows away any funding that has been given to renewables [fuels that can be replenished], so you would see a lot of progress go forward," Driscoll said. "But if you look at the overall energy picture, it is still just a small fraction [of money spent on energy overall]."

Projects like the one at FAU [Florida Atlantic University] to harness energy from ocean tides could benefit under Obama's plan.

Driscoll says whoever becomes the next president also needs to improve coordination between public and private sectors to develop alternative technologies and get them to the marketplace.

Senator McCain also supports greater use of alternative energy. One proposal is to strengthen ties with Brazil, a world leader in ethanol.

"I would eliminate the tariff on imported sugarcane-based ethanol from Brazil," Senator McCain said.

A centerpiece of McCain's campaign, however, is to encourage more domestic oil production, especially off the U.S. coastline.

"We can offshore drill now," he said. "We've got to do it now. We will reduce the cost of a barrel of oil because we show the world that we have a supply of our own."

McCain would end more than two decades of restrictions on new offshore oil drilling.

Obama also backs new drilling offshore, but only as part of a broader solution.

"We only have three to four percent of the world's oil reserves and we use 25 percent of the world's oil," Senator Obama said. "Which means that we can't drill our way out of the problem."

Jorge Piñon is an energy fellow at the Center for Hemispheric Policy in Miami. He says there is good reason for new offshore drilling, but not because politicians say it may lower gas prices.


"That is totally wrong, Piñon said. "Crude oil prices are governed by world market forces, not only drilling in Florida. But the main issue for drilling offshore is strategic. It is in the best national interest."

Voters will decide which approach appeals to them, and which direction the U.S. energy sector will head in coming years.

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