SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Republican John McCain said Tuesday the federal government should practice the energy efficiency he preaches, pledging as president to switch official vehicles to green technologies and do the same for office buildings.
Offering his ideas to address the nation's energy crisis, the Arizona senator also called for a redesign of the national power grid so power is better distributed where it's needed and the country has the capacity to run electric vehicles that he wants automakers to supply.
"Our federal government is never shy about instructing the American people in good environmental practice. But energy efficiency, like charity, should begin at home," McCain said before conducting an energy round-table at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
Among those on the panel was Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a McCain backer who opposes a major element of the candidate's energy strategy — ending a decades-old federal ban on offshore drilling. McCain has said he would leave the decision to the states if the moratorium is lifted.
"John and I both know we can protect our environment and our economy at the same time," Schwarzenegger said in his opening remarks. "I have every confidence that once Senator McCain is in the White House, America will get back in the game when it comes to a sensible, consistent and forward-looking energy policy."
Offshore drilling is particularly sensitive in this coastal community 100 miles north of Los Angeles. Oil derricks are visible on the horizon, as are sailboats and the Channel Islands. Some local residents remember a 1969 oil spill that occurred after an oil platform blew out six miles offshore.
It dumped an estimated 3 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean, some of which reached area beaches.
Despite emphasizing the optional nature of his proposal, McCain has heard complaints about it throughout his two days of campaigning in California, a Democratic-leaning state that the GOP hopes to put in play in the general election.
"No drill, no spill, no kill," said a sign held aloft by several dozen protesters outside McCain's speech.
"We're really kind of goosey here about oil spills, and we're goosey here about federal drilling and oil lands, which are abundant offshore," Dan Secord, a member of the California Coastal Commission, told McCain during a Santa Barbara fundraiser Monday night. "So we ask you to look out there to the south and the southeast and remember the greatest environmental catastrophe that's hit this state and then balance that with the notion of winning California. This is a vibrating blue city and a vibrating state, and it's gonna be a tough haul."
McCain acknowledged offshore drilling would do little to immediately lower record gasoline prices, but he argued that the specter of additional supply would undercut speculation that has driven the cost to more than $4 a gallon.
"Even though it may take some years, the fact that we are exploiting those reserves would have psychological impact that I think is beneficial," the senator said during a town-hall meeting in Fresno.
In his latest proposal, McCain noted the federal government buys 60,000 nonmilitary and non-law enforcement vehicles a year.
"From now on, we're going to make those civilian vehicles flex-fuel capable, plug-in hybrid or cars fueled by clean natural gas. If our great goal is to move American transportation toward lower carbon emissions, then it should start with the federal fleet," he said.
McCain also calculated there are about 3.3 billion square feet of federal office space. Lighting and air conditioning that space makes the federal government the nation's single largest consumer of electricity, he said.
In talking about the energy grid, he called for expanded use of SmartMeters, which give customers a more precise picture of their overall energy consumption. The senator said they would, over time, encourage a more cost-efficient use of power.