- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2008

RICHMOND | Democratic Senate candidate Mark Warner proposed crackdowns on commodities speculators and offered measured support for offshore oil and gas exploration Wednesday.

As fuel prices shot to the top of the national political debate, the former governor attacked Republican proposals for immediate drilling offshore and in an Alaskan wilderness as shortsighted and ineffective.

“Right now, my opponent’s only solution is drill here, drill now,” Mr. Warner said, noting that Republican James S. Gilmore III’s support for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling is not shared by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain.

Mr. Gilmore, Mr. Warner’s predecessor as governor and his Senate opponent in November, has said for weeks that frightening spikes in gasoline prices, now averaging more than $4 per gallon, would become the election’s decisive issue.

He dismissed Mr. Warner’s ideas as “liberal theories.”

“We need to drill here and drill now,” Gilmore’s campaign said in a statement. “When the oil speculators know the United States is serious about drilling here and taking real conservation measures, the price of gasoline will start going down.”

Mr. Warner’s proposals came as Mr. McCain reversed his opposition to offshore drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, a position President Bush advocates.

Mr. Warner, however, said that approach would take years to yield new fuel and would only reduce prices by a few cents per gallon by 2018. Quicker relief, he said, would result from federal action against speculators who have made billions by inflating crude oil prices on overseas markets, from aggressively using U.S. trade leverage to pressure oil cartel nations to increase production, and from “enforcement action” against nations and corporations that collude to drive up oil prices.

“Make no mistake about it: what has happened over the past few months has not been the result of the market. Actually, driving demand in the United States and consumption have fallen and we’ve seen record increases in the price of gas,” Mr. Warner told a group of technology investors Wednesday morning.

More than one-third of the $135 price of a barrel of crude oil - more than $1 of the cost of a gallon of gasoline - is the result of predatory commodities speculators, he said.

Mr. Warner made his position on offshore drilling clearer, though not definitive. While he supports lifting a federal moratorium exploration in coastal waters, states should have the final say over whether to allow it. The environmental threshold for exploratory oil drilling should be higher than for natural gas because oil is a bigger pollutant capable of fouling beaches, he said.

Mr. Warner did not voice support for offshore oil and gas production, saying environmental concerns would have to be addressed first. As governor in 2005, Mr. Warner vetoed legislation that sought to end a longstanding federal ban on drilling for natural gas off the Atlantic coast.

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