"My interest is in making sure we've got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices," Obama said in an interview with The Palm Beach Post.
"If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage - I don't want to be so rigid that we can't get something done," Obama said.Off-shore drilling has become a push-button issue in the presidential campaign since Republican candidate John McCain announced his support to open more of the country's coastline for drilling in order to reduce gas prices. Both candidates are campaigning in Florida today.
Obama has opposed exposing more coastline to drilling, saying that oil companies have not fully explored the areas open to drilling now and insisting that it would have little immediate impact on prices at the pump.
After speaking to a capacity crowd at Gibbs High School auditorium in St. Petersburg, he told the Post he would be open to expanding the current drilling boundaries if it meant winning approval for more fuel-efficient cars, developing alternative energy sources and making the country more "energy independent."
"I think it's important for the American people to understand we're not going to drill our way out of this problem," he said.
"It's also important to recognize if you start drilling now you won't see a drop of oil for ten years, which means its not going to have a significant impact on short-term prices. Every expert agrees on that."
McCain has tried to paint Obama as an obstacle to lower gas prices in a pair of television ads that boast McCain's off-shore drilling position while blaming Obama for $4-per-gallon gas. Neither of the ads have targeted Florida voters.
Once a taboo topic in Florida politics, some Republicans in the state, including Gov. Charlie Crist, have said they'd be willing to explore Florida's coast to combat soaring gas prices.
"The Republicans and the oil companies have been really beating the drums on drilling," Obama said in the interview. "And so we don't want gridlock. We want to get something done."
During his speech to the St. Petersburg audience, Obama mostly focused on economic issues.
He said the $500 and $1,000 tax rebate checks he had proposed for next year should be mailed immediately.
Obama clarified his call for a windfall profits tax on oil companies, saying it should be limited to five years. And he revamped his $50 billion economic package, stipulating that $25 billion be spent on repairing roads, bridges and schools.
His 30-minute speech was interrupted by three young black men who held up a banner reading, "What about the black community, Obama?" The disruption caused Obama to stop his speech while the rest of the audience responded with their own chant, "Yes we can."
After about two minutes, Obama restored order, telling the men they'd get a chance to ask a question in the Q&A portion of the townhall meeting.
"You're feisty here in St. Pete," Obama said.
One of the men asked about "the attacks against the African-American community" by the "same U.S. government that you aspire to lead." He pointed to sub-prime mortgages aimed at black and Latino communities, instances of police profiling, the Jena Six and the slow response to Hurricane Katrina.
"Why is it that you have not had the ability to speak to the interests or even speak on behalf of the oppressed and exploited African community, the black community, in this country?" he said.
Obama said he fought against predatory lending in the U.S. and Illinois Senate; passed the first racial profiling bill and "some of the toughest death penalty reform" in Illinois; and plugged his background as a civil rights lawyer.
"On each of these issues I have spoken out," Obama said. "I may not have spoken out the way you wanted me to speak out."
Copyright 2008 The Palm Beach Post.