June 24, 2008

McCain Proposes Awards for More Efficient Cars

Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Monday that the search for alternatives to the country's dependence on foreign oil is so urgent that he's willing to throw money at it.

The Arizona senator proposed a $300 million prize for whoever can develop a better automobile battery, and $5,000 tax credits for consumers who buy new zero-emission vehicles. The latest proposal is in addition to his support for overturning the federal ban on offshore oil drilling.

"In the quest for alternatives to oil, our government has thrown around enough money subsidizing special interests and excusing failure. From now on, we will encourage heroic efforts in engineering, and we will reward the greatest success," McCain said in a speech at Fresno State University.

Afterward, McCain distanced himself from comments in which top adviser Charlie Black said another terrorist attack this year on U.S. soil would benefit his candidacy against Democrat Sen. Barack Obama.

Black, who has been in the spotlight for his past work as a lobbyist, is quoted in the coming July 7 edition of Fortune magazine as saying such an attack "certainly would be a big advantage to him."

Black also was quoted as saying the "unfortunate event" of the assassination of Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto "helped us."

McCain was startled by the attack comment when asked about it during a news conference after the speech.

"I cannot imagine why he would say it. It's not true," the senator said. "I've worked tirelessly since 9/11 to prevent another attack on the United States of America. My record is very clear."

Citing his work to create a commission to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as well as his membership on the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain added: "I cannot imagine it, and so, if he said that - and I don't know the context - I strenuously disagree."

Black, who was interviewed by reporters as he stood outside the fundraiser, said he wanted to apologize.

"I deeply regret the comments. They were inappropriate," Black said. "I recognize that John McCain has devoted his entire adult life to protecting his country and placing its security before every other consideration."

McCain's energy speech built off of one last week in which he proposed ending a decades-old federal ban on offshore oil drilling. McCain said gasoline prices of more than $4 a gallon make it imperative the country consider a host of alternatives, including nuclear power and, if the host state approves it, offshore oil drilling.

The $300 million battery bounty amounts to $1 for every man, woman and child in the country. He said such a device should deliver power at 30 percent of current costs and have "the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars."

McCain said he could envision foreign automakers such as Honda and Toyota being eligible for the prize, since the Japanese companies have large manufacturing plants in the United States.

As for how he would come up with the prize money, the senator said: "I could pay for it by canceling three pork-barrel projects that are unnecessary and unwanted."

McCain also proposed a Clean Car Challenge to encourage U.S. automakers to develop zero-emission vehicles by offering consumers the incentive of a $5,000 tax credit when they buy one.