Gas Prices Energizing Va. Senate Race

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 19, 2008

RICHMOND, June 18 -- Senate candidate Mark R. Warner said Wednesday that the U.S. government needs to get tougher with OPEC and better regulate investors speculating in the oil market to drive down gas prices.

Warner (D) unveiled his energy policy the same day that President Bush called for Congress to remove the federal ban on offshore drilling, including areas off the Virginia coastline. Warner said he supports offshore exploration for oil and natural gas but stopped short of endorsing drilling, expressing environmental concerns and saying it would have no immediate impact on gas prices.

With those prices exceeding $4 a gallon, offshore drilling is emerging as a major issue in the U.S. Senate race and next week's battle in the General Assembly over transportation funding.

"We could drill everywhere from here to New Jersey, and it's still years away and will only add about 140 days of oil supply to this country," said Warner, a former governor.

His GOP opponent, James S. Gilmore III, has made drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and off the East Coast, including Virginia, a central focus of his campaign, casting it as the only plausible solution for reducing the price of gas.

"I think the number one challenge for the national security as well as the pocketbooks of regular men and women out there is this challenge we are facing with gas prices," Gilmore, also a former governor, said in a speech this week. "If we are going to increase the supply of oil, then we've got to drill for oil in the United States."

Warner hit back at Gilmore on Wednesday, calling his solution shortsighted and unrealistic. Warner instead unveiled a multifaceted proposal that seeks to reduce the U.S. reliance on oil.

"The Bush-Cheney energy policies not only sound like they were written by Big Oil, they were written by Big Oil, and we are paying at the pumps," Warner said in a speech at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond. "My opponent in this race, who was the biggest proponent of sound-bite solutions, is now advocating the continuation of those very policies right now. I hope this becomes one of the defining issues of this Senate race."

At the state Capitol, however, some legislators are eying the revenue that would be generated by offshore drilling.

Sen. Frank W. Wagner (R-Virginia Beach), an ocean engineer, said Virginia would receive $200 million in royalties from companies granted rights to drill for natural gas or oil.

"This could provide Virginia with substantial new revenues that doesn't cost us anything," said Wagner, who has drafted a bill that would divert 40 percent of the proceeds to transportation. "We have the potential in Virginia to play a real leadership role."

Delacey Skinner, a spokeswoman for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), said Kaine supports exploration for natural gas -- but not oil -- 50 miles or more offshore to "see what's out there." But Skinner said such efforts should not be linked to transportation.

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