MIAMI (Reuters) - Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said on Friday that politicians who suggest that lifting a ban on offshore oil drilling would ease rising fuel prices in the United States were “blowing smoke.”
The comments were seen by the U.S. media as a slap at Republican leaders including President George W. Bush and the party’s presumptive presidential nominee John McCain, who have recently spoken in favor of more offshore drilling as America tries to wean itself from its dependence on foreign oil.
A spokesman for the governor, however, said the comments were not directed at McCain, nor at Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who has backed McCain’s stance on offshore drilling.
Rising oil prices and record-high $4-a-gallon gasoline and their impact on the faltering U.S. economy have put energy concerns squarely at the center of the contest between McCain and Democrat Barack Obama in November.
Speaking at a climate change gathering of politicians and business leaders hosted by fellow Republican Crist, Schwarzenegger said politicians have been “throwing around all kinds of ideas in response to the skyrocketing energy crisis, from rethinking nuclear power to pushing biofuels and more renewables and ending the ban on offshore drilling.”
“Anyone who tells you that this will bring down our gas prices immediately or any time soon is blowing smoke,” he said. “America is so addicted to oil it will take us years to wean ourselves from it and to look for new ways to feed our addiction is not the answer.”
Schwarzenegger’s press secretary Aaron McLear said the comments were not a swipe at fellow Republicans for the simple reason that they had not claimed more offshore drilling would immediately lower gasoline prices.
“The governor was not referring to Gov. Crist or Sen. McCain when he said those who suggested offshore oil drilling would lower gas prices are misguided. Neither have suggested that to be the case,” McLear said.
McCain has embraced offshore drilling in recent days and proposed a plan to build 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030. Obama has criticized McCain’s drilling stance, and instead has advocated a plan to slap new taxes on oil company profits.
Crist, who has been mentioned as a possible Republican vice presidential candidate, recently supported McCain’s call for an end to the federal moratorium on offshore drilling.
His support, criticized by some newspapers and leaders, strayed from decades of opposition to offshore drilling by Florida residents and politicians, including President Bush’s younger brother, Jeb, who preceded Crist as governor.
McCain qualified his position, saying states should decide individually on offshore drilling, and Crist appeared to moderate his at the climate conference on Wednesday when he said drilling would only be acceptable if it were safe, far enough from shore and clean enough for the state’s beaches.
Crist said he had not talked to Schwarzenegger about the offshore drilling issue at the climate change meeting but brushed off the “blowing smoke” comment, telling Reuters: “I think he was talking about the fact that we need to diversify all of our energy alternatives in order for it to have a comprehensive and lasting effect and I would agree with that.”
At the same gathering last year, Crist announced a comprehensive greenhouse gas reduction program for Florida patterned on California’s plans for cleaner cars, expansion of renewable energy sources and caps on polluting industries.
California, which has led the U.S. global warming fight in the absence of federal action, unveiled details on Thursday of an ambitious blueprint to counter climate change, aiming to reduce pollutants by 10 percent from current levels by 2020.
It includes a cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide emissions, requires oil companies to make cleaner fuels and utilities to provide 33 percent of their energy from renewable sources like wind and solar.
“This is going to be something the world will be watching very closely,” Schwarzenegger said.
Editing by Michael Christie and Eric Walsh