ARLINGTON, Va. - Sen. John McCain said yesterday that the federal moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling should be lifted and that individual states ought to be given the right to pursue energy exploration in waters near their coasts.
With gasoline prices rising and the United States chronically dependent on foreign oil, the Republican presidential contender said his proposal would "be very helpful in the short term resolving our energy crisis."
McCain also suggested giving the states incentives - among them a greater share of royalties paid by companies that drill for oil - to permit offshore exploration.
Asked how far offshore states should be given control over drilling rights, he said that was a matter for negotiation.
The Arizona Republican offered no further details of his proposal, which he is expected to describe more fully today in an energy speech.
Obama backs ban
McCain's Democratic rival for the presidency, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, opposes an end to the drilling moratorium, a spokesman said. The spokesman, Hari Sevugan, said McCain's "plan to simply drill our way out of our energy crisis is the same misguided approach backed by President Bush that has failed our families for too long and only serves to benefit the big oil companies."
The current drilling moratorium is a perennial cause for controversy, pitting those who favor additional exploration on the one hand against environmentalists on the other.
The ban on offshore drilling covers an estimated 80 percent of U.S. coastal waters. Given the Democratic opposition in Congress to ending the moratorium, the Bush administration and congressional Republicans have been seeking the type of state option that McCain endorsed.
The Republican presidential candidate said the recent surge in the price of oil is having an adverse effect on consumers.
"We've seen the impact of it in the form of food prices, in the form of gasoline, in the form of threats of inflation and, indeed, indications of inflation, and we must embark on a national mission to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil," he told reporters.
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McCain has sought to carve out something of a middle road on energy issues, parting company with many Republicans by opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, for example, and calling for measures to reduce greenhouse gases.
GOP plan rejected
Last month, the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected a Republican energy plan, 56-42, that included a provision similar to McCain's proposal. It would have allowed a state's governor to petition to have the federal moratorium lifted for waters off its coast. Republican senators contended that there are about 14 billion barrels of recoverable oil in U.S. waters now off-limits to drilling. The House of Representatives has twice approved giving states the right to opt out of the federal ban, both times when Republicans were in the majority, but the proposal has never made it through the Senate.
McCain made his remarks before leaving the Washington area for a pair of fundraisers in Dallas.
Another fundraising event, originally set for the home of Clayton Williams in Midland, Texas, was pulled from the schedule after news organizations pressed the McCain campaign about holding an event with the 1990 Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate, who once joked that women should give in while being raped.
McCain sought to minimize the fallout, telling reporters that his aides had not known of the earlier comment when they scheduled the event
"We'll do it someplace else, and I understand he's not attending," McCain said. "That's pretty much the sum of it all."
He said that he would hold another fundraiser in the Midland area later this summer and that Williams would not attend.
Democrats have called on McCain to return more than $300,000 that Williams had raised for him.
© 2008 Associated Press