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Obama now backs tapping into oil reserve
LANSING, Mich. | Sen. Barack Obama put his effort to pursue energy voters into overdrive on Monday, flipping positions to call for releasing oil from the government's strategic reserve just days after he said he was open to expanded offshore drilling.
Mr. Obama, Illinois Democrat, said he reversed his positions because consumers are suffering.
The campaign of his Republican presidential opponent, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said the change was all about politics after polls showed Mr. Obama losing ground. The McCain campaign said gas prices are 23 cents lower now than at their peak a month ago, when Mr. Obama said releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve should be saved for "a genuine emergency" rather than $4-a-gallon gas.
"Breaking our oil addiction is one of the greatest challenges our generation will ever face," Mr. Obama told 1,500 supporters Monday in Lansing. "It is going to take nothing less than a complete transformation of our economy. Energy independence will require all hands on deck from America."
Republicans, meanwhile, ridiculed Mr. Obama for suggesting last week that motorists keep their tires inflated as a way to reduce energy use. Mr. McCain challenged Democrats to call Congress back into session to boost energy production.
"Drill here and drill now," Mr. McCain said in Lafayette Hill, Pa., where he touted his own "all of the above" approach that uses "every resource available to finally solve this crisis."
Although he still rules out drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Mr. McCain has called for expanded offshore drilling and supports alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, biofuels and geothermal and hydroelectric power. He also has set a goal of building 45 nuclear-power plants by 2030.
Mr. McCain found common ground with congressional Republicans in blaming the Democratic majority for blocking progress on an energy plan.
"Congress should come back into session, and I'm willing to come off the campaign trail. I call on Senator Obama to call on Congress to come back into town and come back to work," Mr. McCain said.
Mr. Obama's energy plan calls for issuing an immediate $1,000 rebate to help families weather rising gas costs, reducing foreign oil dependence and building a force of 1 million hybrid cars by 2015. He also hopes to create 5 million "green-collar" jobs, a point that met welcome ears in Lansing, where a once-thriving General Motors Corp. plant has cut positions and shifts.
For short-term relief, he proposed selling 70 million barrels of oil from the strategic reserve and replacing it with cheaper heavy crude. He reinforced his new stance in favor of expanded offshore drilling, as long as it's part of a bipartisan agreement that includes support for renewable fuels and offers incentives for consumers to buy more efficient vehicles.
"Senator McCain would not take the steps or achieve the goals that I outlined today," Mr. Obama said, comparing Mr. McCain to President Bush. "His plan invests very little in renewable sources of energy and he's opposed helping the auto industry retool."
The energy issue has changed the course of the campaign. Polls show Mr. McCain pulling even with Mr. Obama, largely because of his support for drilling, which is overwhelmingly popular with voters.
Mr. Obama tailored his energy pitch Monday to his audience, saying, "We're going to get the auto industry back on track in Michigan."
"For a state that has lost so many jobs and struggled so many years, this is an opportunity to rebuild your economy," he said, speaking before a crowd at the downtown Lansing Center. "You will have a partner in the White House to make sure this innovation flies."
Mr. Obama, on a sweep through Midwestern swing states this week, received a spontaneous singing of "Happy Birthday" as he turned 47.
He and Mr. McCain are courting U.S. automakers and manufacturing-sector workers who are facing desperate times. General Motors and its U.S. counterparts Chrysler and Ford have posted record losses as the demand for large sport utility vehicles has collapsed in the face of rising gas prices and unwieldy union benefit packages that have reduced profits.
The Big Three automakers are pushing green technology as they produce more hybrids and vehicles that use innovations like battery power and renewable fuels. Mr. Obama's Lansing rally was attended by member of the state's congressional delegation and Ford Motor Co. President Bill Ford.
Polls show a tight race here.
"It's really a puzzle why it's so close," said Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat. "It remains a mystery to me. My concern is that if Mitt Romney is paired with Senator McCain. That would make it very difficult for Obama in Michigan."
He said Mr. Obama is doing what he should do and that his energy plan should help the senator in Michigan.
Soji Adelaja, director of Michigan State University's Land Policy Institute, attended the Lansing campaign rally and said Mr. Obama's energy policy could bring significant hope to the economically challenged state, which already has clean energy infrastructure in place to meet goals.
"Michigan has huge renewable energy potential," he said, noting its land acreage and high-velocity capacity for wind power as well as crop production for biofuels. Once-dead auto plants as well as other shuttered manufacturing facilities could be refitted easily to accommodate renewable energy industry, Mr. Adelaja said.
"Michigan has tremendous industrial capacity that can be redirected to help build a strong renewable-energy-based economy here," Mr. Adelaja said. "Our industrial capacity combined with our natural resources base could make it a big winner" under new energy initiatives in the future.
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