Kerry proposes to reduce dependence on foreign oil

Democratic candidate calls for alternative fuels, more efficient vehicles

Election 2004

August 07, 2004|By Mark Z. Barabak | Mark Z. Barabak,LOS ANGELES TIMES

SMITHVILLE, Mo. - With petroleum prices surging to record heights, Sen. John Kerry outlined an ambitious plan yesterday to lessen the United States' dependence on foreign oil in the next 20 years and put Americans in more fuel-efficient cars and trucks.

"Folks, we can do better," the Democratic presidential hopeful said, unveiling his $30 billion plan before a crowd seated on hay bales at a family farm outside Kansas City, Mo.

Kerry's proposal sets twin goals: that 20 percent of U.S. electricity and 20 percent of its motor fuel come from alternative sources such as wind, solar power and corn-based ethanol by the year 2020.

To achieve that, he called for spending $1 billion a year over the next 10 years to help U.S. automakers retool their factories to build cleaner-burning vehicles. His plan would also provide tax breaks up to $5,000 for consumers who purchase those cars and trucks.

Anticipating criticism, the Massachusetts senator said he was not trying to forcibly downsize America's motor pool.

"You want to drive a great big SUV? Terrific. Terrific. That's America," said Kerry, who has several sport utility vehicles in his fleet of family cars.

"But don't you think it makes sense to be able to drive one that gets better fuel mileage and is more efficient and saves you money? That's all. That's all we're trying to do."

Kerry highlighted his proposals - some old, some new - during the eighth day of a cross-country barnstorming tour that is taking him from Boston to Seattle.

The setting yesterday was the Smithville farm of Jim and Ruth Nelson, in one of the most politically competitive stretches of closely divided Missouri.

The Nelsons grow corn and soybeans and raise cattle and a few horses on their 640-acre farm on Missouri's western edge. About 30 minutes away, in Kansas City, Ford is producing the first American-made hybrid fuel SUV, which will run on a combination of gasoline and electricity.

Kerry skipped over most of the particulars of his energy plan. Instead, he spoke in broad terms, saying the reliance on renewable energy sources, such as corn and soybeans, would help farmers' pocketbooks while boosting U.S. security.

Without ever using the word Iraq, Kerry suggested that President Bush's foreign policy has driven up the cost of oil by an additional $8 to $15 a barrel - a surcharge "entirely attributable to the instability of the world today."

"If we can run a more effective foreign policy ... we can tamp down the instability," Kerry said, suggesting energy independence is even more important amid "the war on terror, where much of the focus of that war is in the Middle East."

"Guess what else is in the Middle East?" Kerry said. "Oil."

Along with pushing for more fuel-efficient vehicles, his plan proposes:

Spending $5 billion over 10 years on a "clean fuels partnership" among government, agriculture and industry to promote research into fuels made from corn, soybeans, agricultural waste and other sources. Another $5 billion would promote jobs in clean energy technologies.

Spending $10 billion to convert the current generation of coal-fired utility plants into cleaner, more efficient facilities.

Enacting efficiency standards and financial incentives to cut the federal government's energy bill by 20 percent a year.

Kerry told the invited crowd of about 150 that his plan would be financed through existing oil and gas royalties, extending a tax on corporate polluters and through stricter fuel-efficiency standards that would cut the federal government's energy bill and provide $2 billion a year.

The Bush campaign quickly denounced Kerry's proposal, saying it would do precisely the opposite of what he claimed.

"John Kerry's record on energy is one of advocating policies that would raise energy prices across the board for working families and businesses, weaken the economy, lower disposable incomes, and cause massive job losses in key industries, as well as making America more dependent on foreign sources of energy," the campaign said in a statement issued even before Kerry spoke.

"His current efforts to fund renewable energy and conservation follow in large part exactly what President Bush is already doing, and echoes the president's energy plan that Kerry worked to block.`'

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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