Clinton Lays Out Energy Plan

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said yesterday that the United States should cut its consumption of foreign oil in half by 2025, and outlined a national strategy of tax incentives, an oil-profits tax and more funds for research aimed at spurring conservation and development of alternative sources of energy.

The prospective 2008 presidential candidate warned of dire consequences if the nation fails to curb its energy consumption habits, asserting that inaction in the face of rising oil prices and terrorist threats puts both national security and the country's economic competitiveness at risk.

"Our present system of energy is weakening our national security, hurting our pocketbooks, violating our common values and threatening our children's future," Clinton said in a speech at the National Press Club. "Right now, instead of national security dictating our energy policy, our failed energy policy dictates our national security."

Clinton's prescriptions included a series of targets, mandates and requirements designed to shift the country away from foreign oil. It marked the second time in as many months that she has delivered a major speech on domestic policy. Although she is concentrating on winning reelection to the Senate this fall, the speeches have begun to amplify her positions on national challenges that will confront whoever becomes president in 2009.

Clinton echoed what President Bush said in his State of the Union address earlier this year when he decried nation's addiction to foreign oil, but her solutions went further.

She also chided Vice President Cheney for having said early in the Bush presidency that conservation was not a viable solution to energy shortages. "The truth is that conservation is not just a personal virtue but an important part of any sensible energy policy," she said.

Clinton said she plans to introduce legislation to create a strategic energy fund, largely paid for by an excess profits tax on big oil companies, who she noted earned a combined $113 billion in profits last year.

She estimated that the profits tax and a repeal of other tax breaks for the oil industry could pump $50 billion into the energy fund over two years and pay for an array of tax incentives and for $9 billion in new research initiatives for wind, solar and other alternative energy resources. Oil companies could escape the tax if they reinvested profits into similar programs.

To speed the shift from foreign oil, Clinton proposed incentives for hybrid cars, improving household energy efficiency, accelerating development of ethanol made from plant wastes and installing ethanol pumps at gas stations.

Clinton joked that her 40-minute speech, which included references to "geologic sequestration" and "cellulosic ethanol," was "probably a lot more wonkish" than many in the audience had come to hear. She offered energy conservation tips from installing fluorescent lighting to keeping automobile tires fully inflated.

Her goal, she said, is to reduce the use of foreign oil by about 8 million barrels a day by 2025, but she set a series of interim targets as well, among them requiring that 20 percent of electricity be produced by renewable energy sources by the year 2020.

Clinton was notably cool to increased use of nuclear power, citing problems of cost, safety, proliferation and waste. She said she supports higher fuel efficiency standards for automobiles but warned against steps that would force U.S. automakers to move production to other countries.

As she was finishing her speech, Clinton was interrupted by two protesters, who shouted criticisms of her support for the Iraq war. They were forcibly removed from the room. Later, asked whether she regretted her vote for the Iraq war resolution, Clinton replied, "I regret the way the president used the authority he was given."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company