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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

McCain proposes $300M prize for new auto battery

Republican presidential candidate John McCain R-Ariz., speaks during a campaign event at Fresno State University Monday, June 23, 2008 in Fresno, Calif. McCain is hoping to solve the country's energy crisis with cold hard cash. The presumed Republican nominee on Monday proposed a $300 million government prize to whoever can develop an automobile battery that far surpasses existing technology.  (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)
AP Photo: Republican presidential candidate John McCain R-Ariz., speaks during a campaign event at Fresno State University...

FRESNO, Calif. - 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 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 $4-a-gallon makes 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 so-called 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.

The proposal comes as skyrocketing gasoline prices have boosted the price of virtually all goods and services, sent commuters flocking to public transportation and increased tensions between the U.S. and its Middle Eastern oil suppliers.

Last week, Obama said he opposes offshore oil drilling, arguing it was not a short-term solution to high prices. On Sunday, Obama announced he would strengthen government oversight of energy traders whose futures speculation he blames in large part for the rising price of oil.

After the speech and news conference, McCain attended a fundraiser in Fresno and then headed for another in Santa Barbara. Both were part of a money push that helped the senator raise a personal record of $21 million last month, and left him with $31 million cash on hand at the end of May.

McCain was spending at least part of Tuesday in California talking about energy and the environment. He was to be joined by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who opposes lifting the ban on oil drilling in coastal waters.

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