By Molly Ball
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Under the bleach-bright Las Vegas summer sun, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Tuesday checked out the solar panels that shade cars in the parking lot of the Springs Preserve while powering the facility.
"What we are seeing here ... is that the green, renewable energy economy is not some far-off, pie-in-the-sky future," Obama said in a speech at the local nature attraction. "It is now. It's creating jobs now. It is providing cheap alternatives to $140-a-barrel oil now. And it can create millions of additional jobs, entire industries, if we act now."
The Illinois senator said he wouldn't rule out expanding nuclear power, but he would first require an acceptable way of dealing with the radioactive waste that results.
Obama opposes the proposed nuclear waste repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain, and he used the local issue to slam McCain.
"He wants to build 45 new nuclear reactors when they don't have a plan to store the waste anywhere besides right here," he said.
The federal government, Obama said, should provide incentives for the development of wind, solar and other types of renewable energy.
"But Washington hasn't done that," he said. "What Washington has done is what Washington always does: peddled cheap gimmicks that get politicians through to the next election."
McCain has proposed a $300 million prize for development of battery technology for cars, an idea Obama ridiculed.
"When John F. Kennedy decided that we were going to put a man on the moon, he didn't put a bounty up for some rocket scientist to win," he said. "He put the full resources of the United States government behind the project and called on the ingenuity of the American people."
Obama was also critical of McCain's proposals for a summer holiday from the federal gasoline tax and allowing offshore oil drilling. He noted that McCain had admitted that drilling off America's coasts would have only a "psychological impact" in the immediate term.
"In case you were wondering, in Washington-speak, what that means is, 'It polls well,'" Obama said. "It's an example of how Washington tries to convince you that they've done something to make your life better when they really didn't."
Oil companies, he said, already have drilling rights to millions of acres of federal land, "and yet they haven't touched it," Obama said. "John McCain wants to give them more when they're not using what they already have."
The companies ought to pay a fine on drilling rights they're holding but not using, he said.
In the case of the gasoline -tax holiday, he said that when he supported such a measure in Illinois, oil companies simply pocketed the money to pad their profit margins rather than passing on the savings to consumers.
"These are not serious energy policies," Obama said. "I wish we could wave a magic wand and make gas prices go down, but we can't."
In the near term, Obama proposed a second round of stimulus checks to families and a tax cut for workers to help people deal with rising costs. To help pay for it, he called for a tax on oil companies' profits and closing the "Enron loophole" that allows speculators to drive up oil prices.
Over 10 years, Obama said he would devote $150 billion to alternative energy sources, which he said would create "up to five million new jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced."
Republicans responded to Obama's attacks on their candidate by calling him "the Dr. No of energy policy."
Obama has put forward just one concrete proposal on energy, the stimulus checks combined with taxing oil profits, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said in a conference call with reporters. Meanwhile, he has opposed McCain's many proposals: the gas tax holiday, offshore drilling, more nuclear power and the $300 million prize.
"I am not sure he has done anything other than mirror the inaction of the Democrat majority in the Congress," Burr said.
McCain's economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, defended the concept of offshore drilling's "psychological impact." Futures markets, he said, would respond to the prospect of increased drilling capacity by lowering oil prices right away.
"If the United States makes a strong commitment to additional exploration ... that sends a strong signal to the traders in the market that future supplies will be greater," he said.
After his 14-minute speech, Obama took questions from the audience of about 50 energy workers and conservationists seated in the small conference room at the preserve, which was built to national green building standards of energy efficiency and with sustainable materials.
Local electrician Eddie Gering, 48, thanked Obama for opposing the gasoline-tax holiday, saying he felt the proposal insulted his intelligence as a voter. He wanted to know why nuclear power shouldn't be a bigger part of the nation's energy future.
"The problem that we've got with nuclear energy right now is that we have not figured out how to store the waste in a safe and effective manner," Obama said. "That's why Yucca is such a big issue here in Nevada. The basic theory was, we won't solve the problem, we'll just dump it all in Nevada."
He said he would increase investment in research and development to find a better way to store nuclear material.
"If we can figure that out, then nuclear has some big advantages, the fact that it doesn't produce greenhouse gases being the most important one," he said.
To another question, about government red tape preventing new energy projects from getting off the ground, Obama became philosophical.
"I'm a Democrat, and at times in the past Democrats have gotten so regulation-happy they lose sight of efficiency," he said. "Republicans attack us as wanting government for the sake of government. I want enough government to do what needs to be done, but I also want government to get out of the way where it's blocking progress. I want to streamline government so it's working. I want it to be consumer-friendly."
While he was in town, Obama met briefly with a local family to talk about how his tax plan would affect them, according to the campaign.
Later Tuesday in Los Angeles, Obama raised nearly $5 million at a celebrity-packed fundraiser that was the equivalent of the entertainment industry's coming-out party for the likely Democratic presidential nominee.
"He's my candidate, and I think you have to put your money where your mouth is," said actor Don Cheadle. Actor Dennis Quaid said Obama is "the Superman for everyone."
Obama's campaign refused to say how many millions he and the Democratic National Committee raised at the gala, but Democratic officials put the number at close to $5 million. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the numbers publicly.
Campaign officials severely limited media access to the event at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. No television cameras or photographers were allowed inside.
Obama, who is counting on Hollywood's reliable support for Democrats, appealed to the those in the crowd who might have supported his former foe, Hillary Clinton.
Contact reporter Molly Ball at firstname.lastname@example.org