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Columbia Missourian - Congressional Candidates Differ On Energy Emphases

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Both major party candidates for Missouri's Ninth District seat in the U.S. House support domestic drilling and increased use of renewable energies, but there are notable differences in their policy emphases.

Republican candidate Blaine Luetkemeyer, a former state representative, said drilling for oil domestically should be the top priority.

"I think that the short-term as well as the long-term thing to do is to drill," Luetkemeyer said, arguing that gas prices only began to drop after President George W. Bush lifted the presidential moratorium on drilling offshore in the Outer Continental Shelf.

"If we have the national will and national policy to drill, it takes the speculative part of this market out of play and gets (prices) back down to where the actual supply-and-demand factors kick in," Luetkemeyer added.

The Democratic candidate, state Rep. Judy Baker of Columbia, supports offshore drilling but cautioned that it is a short-term solution.

"We've got to become self-sufficient producing our own energy sources," Baker said. "In the short term, we do some drilling where it makes sense. Some sensible drilling would allow for us to have a transition period while we sort out which of the renewable and alternative sources are going to be our long-range best bet."

The executive ban on drilling was first signed by Bush's father, former president George H. W. Bush, but was largely symbolic. Offshore drilling has been prohibited by Congress since 1982 because of environmental concerns such as oil spills and potential damage to coral reefs. It is an issue that figured to loom large in congressional races when gas prices breached $4 per gallon, but may have dropped from the public eye amid falling gas prices and larger economic woes stemming from the housing crisis and its effects on Wall Street.

Luetkemeyer, however, insists that cheaper gas will stem the inflationary trend that has affected groceries and other consumables and driven up the cost of living.

Both candidates support environmentally friendly drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a federally protected wilderness region also covered by Congress' 1982 drilling ban.

Baker, however, emphasizes renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and water power. She proposes investing in renewable energy by redirecting subsidies that oil companies receive in the form of federal tax breaks. It's difficult to pinpoint just how much money the oil industry actually receives. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that the federal government gave $2.19 billion to oil and gas companies in 2007, but independent research groups have estimated that number to be $40 billion or higher.

Baker says her plan would create jobs in what she calls the "new energy economy."

Luetkemeyer said he supports an "all-of-the-above" approach to energy policy.

"We've got to start thinking infrastructure on solving these energy needs," Luetkemeyer said. "Whether it be nuclear, coal, natural gas, wind, solar, renewable fuels, I think they all have a place, depending on where you're located within the country."

Both candidates also support the proposed construction of a second nuclear power plant in Callaway County.

Tamara Millay, the Libertarian candidate, said she would only support drilling as a "last resort."

"I think at this point we really need to start developing alternate energy sources," Millay said. "I think the best way to do that would be to cut the subsidies for the oil companies, which would force people to pay the real price for the non-renewables they are using."

Millay is against the U.S. investing in alternative energy directly, preferring a free market approach. However, she said she would consider offering tax incentives to companies that develop alternative energy.

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