Associated Press - Congressional Candidates Debate Energy Answers

News Article

By:  Ben Lujan, Jr.
Date: Aug. 5, 2008
Location: Santa Fe, NM


Associated Press - Congressional Candidates Debate Energy Answers

Should the U.S. try to drill its way out of dependence on foreign oil?

Yes, at least for short-term relief, says the Republican candidate for Congress in northern New Mexico.

No, according to the Democratic nominee and two independents running for the seat.

The quartet of candidates for the 3rd District seat outlined their positions on energy and other issues at a forum Monday, the first time they've shared a stage in the general election season.

GOP candidate Dan East said while there needs to be investment in alternative energy, it is neither readily available nor economically viable right now.

"I believe we need to start drilling today," said East, who disputed projections that the benefits wouldn't be felt for a decade.

He favors drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf and in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which he contended could be done economically and in an environmentally safe way.

The utilities contractor from Rio Rancho also described himself as "pro-nuclear." Nuclear energy is safe, efficient and cost-effective and could help reduce dependence on foreign oil, he said.

Democratic nominee Ben Ray Lujan told the audience at the forum, sponsored by the Association of Commerce and Industry and the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, that the U.S. must become a leader in renewable energy production.

"We cannot drill our way out of this problem," said Lujan, who is an elected member of the Public Regulation Commission, a utility regulatory panel.

Expanding the freeze on deposits into the strategic reserve would help keep prices down in the short run, he said.

And Congress and the president must consider tapping into the national petroleum reserves, he added.

Solving the problem of storage for wind and solar energy could be tackled by the national laboratories and universities in New Mexico, he suggested.

"We need to change the way that .. the Unites States generates power," he said.

Independent candidate Carol Miller cautioned that New Mexicans shouldn't look exclusively to Congress for answers to the nation's energy problems, but instead focus closer to home.

Revenue from the issuance of severance tax bonds, backed by the money that pours into New Mexico coffers from the oil and gas industries, is scattered around "like confetti" on projects across the state, she said.

It would make more sense to aggregate that money and invest it in alternative energy projects for schools and senior centers, she suggested.

New Mexico, with its wind, solar and geothermal resources, could be an energy exporter and provide a model for the rest of the country, she said.

"I don't think we're going to have a quick solution to the energy problem, but I think it will start here," said Miller, a health consultant.

Independent Ron Simmons said he favors expanded federal tax credits for the renewable energy industry—especially solar—and more federal funding to help renewable energy startup businesses.

Regulators should encourage localized electrical generation, and utilities should be required to buy excess renewable energy generated by their customers, he said.

"For national security and economic reasons, our goal as a nation needs to be an independent energy supply," said Simmons, a homebuilder.

That energy should be renewable and the transition should be made as quickly as possible, he said.

The candidates are vying to succeed Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, who is running for the seat being vacated by Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici.