September 12, 2008

Udall, Pearce Trade Fire on Energy


Three recent television commercials for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tom Udall stress a "do-it-all" philosophy for energy policy -- including more offshore drilling and nuclear power, in addition to developing alternative sources.

The ads serve as rebuttals to attacks from his Republican opponent, Hobbs oil man Steve Pearce, who consistently has accused the Santa Fe Democrat of being in line with "extreme" and "far- left" environmentalists.

Udall, for his part, has portrayed Pearce as being in the pocket of "Big Oil."

Energy issues, stoked by a spike in gasoline prices that topped $4 a gallon earlier this year, have dominated the contest between the two congressmen.

But votes cited in 30-second TV ads and other campaign material may not fully capture how candidates stand on issues as they search for messages that connect with voters.

The national online publication Environment & Energy Daily noted this week that the new Udall ads "represent something of a message shift for a candidate who is a favorite of environmental groups. Udall has built much of his political profile on being a strong advocate of renewable energy and made that issue one of the key planks of his campaign in its early stage."

E&E attributed the shift to Republican attacks and tightening poll numbers in the Senate race here. The Pearce campaign distributed the article in its entirety via e-mail.

Going nuclear

According to "fact sheets" accompanying news releases about the most recent Udall ads, Udall fortifies his claim about being in favor of nuclear energy by saying he voted for the 2005 and 2007 energy bills.

The earlier bill included $2 billion for "risk insurance" in case new nuclear plants run into construction and licensing delays. That bill also contained a provision to allow nuclear utilities to be eligible for taxpayer-backed loan guarantees for as much as 80 percent the cost of their plants.

The 2007 energy bill provided $568 million for developing nuclear energy research and increased funding for a program called Nuclear Power 2010, described in Udall's campaign material as "a joint government/industry cost-shared effort to identify sites for new nuclear power plants, develop and bring to market advanced nuclear plant technologies, evaluate the business case for building new nuclear power plants and demonstrate untested regulatory processes."

Pearce's Web site lists three bills beneficial to nuclear power that Udall voted against between 2001 and 2006. Part of the 2001 bill involved funding for Nuclear Power 2010.

Drill, baby, drill

In arguing that Udall has supported offshore drilling for domestic oil supplies, the Udall camp lists only one piece of "pro- drilling" legislation for which Udall has voted.

That was HR 6515, titled Drill Responsibly in Leased Lands Act of 2008. It also was known as the "use-it-or-lose-it act," because it required oil and gas companies to develop on already leased lands before obtaining new government leases.

Not listed by Udall was a similar bill, HR 6251, called the Responsible Federal Oil and Gas Lease Act, which in June he voted for and Pearce voted against.

Both bills were supported by nearly all Democrats in the House. Democrats, including Udall, have argued companies should drill on 68 million acres already leased before the government opens new areas for drilling.

"The oil companies have the land they need to boost American oil production now," Udall said in a June news release, "but they are not using it. It is time to tell the big oil companies to stop sitting on America's oil supply waiting for the price to get even higher."

The bills were opposed by nearly all Republicans, including Pearce. President Bush threatened to veto HR 6515. "By blocking some firms from competing for new leases, this legislation would further increase gasoline prices that already exceed $4 per gallon," the White House said in a statement.

A Pearce spokesman said this week that most leases not being used have been held up by red tape and regulations.

The bills failed because supporters fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass legislation under special procedural rules used to bring them to a vote. The Associated Press reported at the time that "Democratic leaders appeared to choose the unusual process because it allowed them to deny Republicans a vote on opening up new offshore areas for drilling. ... Democrats are scrambling to appear pro-drilling."

Pearce, on his Web site and in "fact sheets" for his own campaign ads, has listed Udall "no" votes on several bills and amendments that were aimed at lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling and opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy exploration.

Udall spokeswoman Marissa Padilla this week pointed out that most of those votes came during the period when Republicans controlled the House. She characterized them as "all or nothing" legislation that Udall couldn't support. "Congressman Udall has said these should be looked at on a case-by-case basis," Padilla said. "Part of the problem is there haven't been more balanced proposals."

Pearce lists instances in which Udall voted against more drilling after the Democrats took over in 2007. One was an amendment to allow new leases for offshore natural gas development in areas at least 25 miles from the U.S. coast; the other was a motion during a debate on a housing bill to allow oil exploration in Alaska's ANWR.

Other energy claims

Udall's recent ads also hit Pearce hard for accepting more than $615,000 in campaign contributions from oil companies and voting nine times against alternative energy bills.

Pearce has insisted that campaign contributions have nothing to do with his votes.

As for his votes against proposals to establish renewable energy standards and tax credits for alternative energy sources, he told The New Mexican in June: "We were implementing standards we don't have the capability to reach."

But Pearce said he's supported other alternative-energy legislation, such as setting aside nearly 6.5 million acres in the West for solar collectors and allowing access through public lands for wind energy.

Contact Steve Terrell at 986-3037 or [email protected]

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