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Energy problems ahead for whoever is next president

WASHINGTON — No matter who moves into the White House in January, energy problems will hit him with the punch of a winter storm.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain and his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, agree that the era of cheap energy and abundant supplies is over. Both have called for breaking away from the nation's overwhelming oil dependency.

Obama would take a decade to wean the nation off its reliance on foreign oil. Mc­Cain, dubbing his energy agenda the ”Lexington Project“ — after the Massachusetts town where America's war for independence began 233 years ago — says his goal is to achieve ”energy independence“ by 2025.

Last week Obama said he's ready to turn to the federal Strategic Petroleum Reserve and make available as much as 70 million barrels of the government's emergency oil.

Barring a supply emergency, McCain can be expected to reject such action. His campaign dismissed the idea of tapping the reserve as a political ploy.

Obama also wants oil companies to come up with the money for helping people pay their winter heating bills and defray high gasoline costs. He has called for a windfall profits tax on the five largest oil companies, using the money to give Americans an ”emergency energy rebate.“

McCain denounced new oil industry taxes, arguing they would hinder investment, exploration and domestic oil production.

New domestic oil and gas production has been the mantra of the McCain energy agenda. He has called repeatedly for lifting the drilling bans covering the Outer Continental Shelf.

Lifting the offshore drilling bans would not produce any oil for five to seven years. Yet some of Obama's major energy initiatives could be equally long-range.

Obama, for example, wants a $150 billion, decade-long program to spur the commercial development of alternative energy sources: ethanol made from switchgrass instead of corn; new solar, wind and car battery technologies; more energy efficiency and finding ways to make coal more environmentally friendly.

The program would provide $15 billion a year for 10 years. But don't expect the money any time soon.

The money under the Obama plan would come from selling pollution allowances to release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as part of a broad program to address global warming.

McCain promises government support for building 45 new power reactors by 2030. Obama has expressed skepticism about nuclear power expansion while acknowledging the need for the reactors now operating.

A bigger divide exists on the nuclear industry's thorniest problem: reactor waste.

McCain is a fan of Yucca Mountain, the proposed Nevada waste dump for highly radioactive waste generated by the country's commercial reactors. Obama calls Yucca a mistake. Critical decisions on whether to go forward with it will have to be made early in the next presidency.

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