Candidates shift positions on energy

John McCain and Barack Obama have spent the past week talking up their energy plans. But the toll on Americans' pocketbooks from the high costs of fuel have forced both candidates to change their stances on a number of policies. Steve Henn reports.

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Kai Ryssdal: John McCain and Barack Obama aren't taking any chances on lower oil prices. The two have spent most of the past week praising the virtues of their energy plans and panning the other guy's.

If some of what you're hearing from them this time around strikes you as new, that's because it is. Marketplace's Steve Henn reports.


Steve Henn: John McCain struck first. Back in the early spring, he proposed a gas-tax holiday for the summer driving season. Then, when oil reached more than $130 a barrel, McCain said it was time to end the moratorium on offshore drilling.

John McCain: I believe it is time for the federal government to lift these restrictions and to put our own reserves to use.

Obama countered that both a gas-tax holiday and offshore drilling wouldn't bring prices down anytime soon, if at all.

Barack Obama: When I'm president, I intend to keep in place the moratorium here in Florida and around the country that prevents oil companies from drilling off Florida's coasts.

But this week, Obama said he would allow limited new exploration offshore. He also said if elected, he'll pass a windfall tax on oil companies, give families $1,000 in emergency energy assistance and release millions of gallons of oil from the strategic petroleum reserve to lower prices.

Severin Borenstein is director of the University of California Energy Institute. He says these ideas are a mixed bag.

Severin Borenstein: Some of which will just have no effect at all, like drilling.

Others may push prices down for a while, but...

Borenstein: Lowering gas prices a bit right now is really is not a good energy policy.

Borenstein says gas costs a lot for a very good reason: It's scarce. If we are going to get out of our energy bind, he says Americans will have to start using less oil. While candidates may hate to admit it, record high gas prices are a great place to start.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.