By ROSEANN MORING AND CATHERINE McCOMB
COLUMBIA — With gas prices in Missouri creeping closer to $4 a gallon and worries that the United States’ reliance on foreign oil might undercut national security, the price of fuel and where it comes from is a compelling issue.
Each of the candidates in vying for party nominations to replace Kenny Hulshof as Missouri’s Ninth District congressman has weighed in. And while there’s some significant degree of overlap between the two parties, Republicans generally emphasize more domestic drilling for oil, while Democrats emphasize alternative energy strategies and an end to oil subsidies.
Former Missouri Tourism Director Blaine Luetkemeyer of St. Elizabeth is an advocate for drilling. He said that although it would produce no results for another 10 years, “if we don’t do this now, 10 years from now we’ll be saying, ‘I wish we had done that.’”
Luetkemeyer added that gas prices and energy policy also are short-term issues.
“As we as a nation make the commitment to drill and start to do so, the OPEC nations will probably drop their prices as a direct result fearing the loss of market share,” he said.
Luetkemeyer also said the reliance on foreign oil is a matter not only of the economy but also of national security. The United States’ reliance on foreign countries for something as essential as oil makes the country vulnerable, he said.
State Rep. Danie Moore, R-Fulton, like Luetkemeyer noted that the United States has not built a new oil refinery in 30 years.
“We should have been drilling in ANWR years ago,” Moore said, referring to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northern Alaska. If President Bill Clinton had not vetoed a bill authorizing that, she said, “we would be pumping oil into our nation today. It’s very unfortunate.”
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain in the past has opposed oil drilling in the refuge and elsewhere, but recently came out in favor of it.
Former MU football player Brock Olivo, who lives in Columbia, said the United States should reduce its dependence on foreign oil and, in the long term, on oil altogether.
“The search and the development of alternative energy should be one of the top priorities of the next administration,” he said.
Olivo said that instead of lower gas prices, people should be looking for “comprehensive reform that will sustain us for generations.” That, he said, would include tapping domestic oil resources, but “don’t stop there — take a step further.”
But he said in the meantime that he supports domestic oil drilling. He also raised the issue of national security.
Dan Bishir, a building inspector and plans examiner from St. Peters, also said that until renewable energy is feasible, the United States needs to start drilling for oil and that the nation could eventually overtake the Middle East in supplying oil to other countries.
He said drilling techniques are environmentally friendly enough to avoid too much impact. But “if it comes down to $1.50 a gallon or killing the caribou, goodbye Mr. Caribou. That’s just the reality.”
State Rep. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, also said the solution is a mixture of starting to drill for oil immediately and researching alternative energy sources, including clean coal, solar and nuclear energy, which he said has an “unsurpassed safety record” in Callaway County.
“For a couple of decades, Democrats in Congress have been so beholden of extreme environmentalists that they have blocked efforts to explore American sources of energy,” he said.
Although the Democratic candidates focused more on other solutions, not all of them oppose more domestic drilling.
“I think we can do it safely,” said Marion County Commissioner Lyndon Bode, adding that he would vote to lift the ban on offshore drilling. “We would have to have some guidelines where they would do it properly and safely.”
Bode also suggested increasing efforts to educate people about energy conservation, investigating the futures market to ensure that speculation isn’t driving up costs unfairly and looking into alternative fuel sources such as biodiesel and ethanol.
Ken Jacob, a former state senator and representative who lives in Columbia, said he would support drilling in areas that are not environmentally sensitive.
“To the degree that there are places that can be drilled and that the oil companies just have chosen not to drill there, I think those kind of places can be kept on the table,” he said.
Bode, Jacob and the other Democratic candidates agreed there is no single solution.
“Each time I hear a discussion about whether one energy solution is good or bad, we’re missing the big picture,” said Steve Gaw, a former speaker of the Missouri House and past chairman of the Missouri Public Service Commission. “I think if we looked at them across a broad spectrum and you fit them together in a way that achieved or worked toward both of those goals, we could make significant strides.”
Gaw, who lives in Moberly, suggested investing in alternative energy sources. He would support offshore drilling only if it could be done “without significant harm to the environment” and if it would benefit Americans, not “oil companies who are already reaping huge profits.”
Jacob said he would end government oil subsidies that total anywhere from $11.5 billion to $35 billion per year, according to a 1998 Greenpeace study. Jacob said he would reinvest that money in the federal Highway Trust Fund and buy hybrid vehicles for government agencies, such as the U.S. Army and the Postal Service.
“If you take that $35 billion, and then you also adjust the windfall profits tax, you’re going to have more money, and that’s going to allow you to suspend the gas tax, and that’s going to allow you to maintain the gas prices at a lower level, and then (conserve) by purchasing hybrid vehicles, since the consumption of gas is so great by the government,” he said.
Jacob said he would also like to lower the speed limit for large trucks. That, he said, would not only allow shipping companies to invest the money they save on gas back into the economy but also reduce highway damage.
State Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, said she would try to redirect the money spent on oil subsidies to businesses and universities that are “on the road to developing domestic and renewable energy sources.”
She also would target futures trading. “The Senate heard testimony two years ago that predicted this kind of inflation,” she said. “It’s kind of unfortunate that nothing has been done, even though this has been predicted.”
Baker’s plan would close legal loopholes that she says allow speculators to manipulate the oil market. She also would like to create a position for an inspector general to oversee energy futures trading.
“Getting a handle on a crackdown for those who would manipulate the market for personal profit is something we can do now,” she said.
Libertarian candidate Tamara Millay said that by subsidizing oil companies, the government is “making it more difficult for alternative energies to get off the ground.”
Millay also favors a gas tax holiday. “I will never say no to lowering taxes or abating them for a while.”
Fewer regulations on building oil refineries and on drilling would help, too, as long as the environment remains protected, Millay said.
“I think that if we worked with people who were aware of what the actual concerns were in those environments that we could strip away all the unnecessary regulations and find a solution,” she said.