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Obama Calls For Tapping Oil Reserves

LANSING, Mich. – Barack Obama called today for tapping the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to provide short-term relief from rising gasoline prices, marking the second time in a week that the Democrat has shifted positions on an energy issue.

His proposal to release 70 million barrels of oil from the stockpile – a concept he rejected one month ago – follows his decision last week to support some offshore drilling if it was part of a comprehensive energy bill. The doubling of gas prices over the last year constitute a “crisis,” aides said, prompting Obama to reconsider his position on the oil reserve.

But similar to the caveat he issued when he reversed course on drilling, Obama said no single step, including drawing on the oil reserve, would reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil in the long term.

“Breaking our oil addiction is one of the greatest challenges our generation will ever face,” Obama said in his prepared remarks today. “It will take nothing less than a complete transformation of our economy. This transformation will be costly, and given the fiscal disaster we will inherit from the last Administration, it will likely require us to defer some other priorities.”

Tapping the oil reserve was just one piece of a broad package that Obama said would reduce the nation’s reliance on foreign oil over 10 years, spending $150 billion on a mix of subsidies for business and consumers to encourage a “clean energy” future. The plans include a $7,000 tax credit to drivers who buy advanced-technology vehicles and $4 billion in direct assistance to Detroit automakers to help them build hybrid vehicles in the U.S.

“We can do this,” he vowed in Michigan, the nation’s car capital.

Obama’s speech here marked the start of a week-long focus on energy issues – a campaign flashpoint as voters feel the pain of higher oil prices.

The presumptive Democratic nominee, who has spent the last week deflecting Republican comparisons of him to Hollywood celebrities, launched the offensive on the campaign trail and TV. He spoke here several hours after releasing an ad attacking Republican John McCain for being in the “pocket” of Big Oil. In his speech, Obama said McCain had not done enough during his 26 years in Washington to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil.

“So when Senator McCain talks about the failure of politicians in Washington to do anything about our energy crisis, it’s important to remember that he’s been a part of that failure,” Obama said.

McCain returned the blame Monday, telling a crowd in Lafayette Hill, Pa., that Obama should press his party’s leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to pull Congress out of its summer recess and pass an energy bill.

“I am going to lead our nation to energy independence and I'm going to do it with a realistic and comprehensive 'all of the above' approach that uses every resource available to finally solve this crisis,” said McCain, who has also reversed his opposition to offshore drilling.

Obama dropped his opposition to offshore drilling Friday, saying he would be open to limited drilling as part of a compromise energy package. But on Monday in Michigan, Obama said oil companies must first look at drilling on 68 million acres that they own but have not touched.

"And if they don’t, we should require them to give up their leases to someone who will," Obama said.

In proposing to tap the oil reserve, Obama said his plan would swap light sweet oil with heavier oil. President Clinton used a similar swap of government oil in 2000, releasing 30 million barrels because of concern over rising gas prices. It was last tapped in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The reserve “is there for a purpose: to help Americans in ties of crisis,” a policy paper released by the campaign states. “Barack Obama believes the doubling of oil prices in the last year is a crisis for millions of Americans and the transfer of wealth to oil producing countries, many of them hostile to our interests, is a threat to our national security.”

A month ago in St. Louis, Mo., Obama said it was not time to tap the strategic oil reserve, saying it should be used in a “genuine emergency.” He cited, as an example, a terrorist attack on a major oil facility in Saudi Arabia and “you suddenly had huge amounts of oil taken … out of the world market.”

Spokeswoman Jen Psaki disagreed Monday with the characterization that Obama had shifted his position, saying the senator has been “consistent about his belief that the president should retain his discretionary authority to conduct exchanges or swaps” as warranted by circumstances.

McCain opposes tapping the oil stockpile. His spokesman said Monday that it exists "for America's national security strategy - not Barack Obama's election strategy."

The three main components of Obama’s plan are:

— Get one million 150 mile-per-gallon plug-in hybrids on U.S. roads within six years.
— Require that 10 percent of U.S. energy comes from renewable sources by the end of his first term – more than double the current level.
— Reduce U.S. demand for electricity 15 percent by 2020.

“If I am president, I will immediately direct the full resources of the federal government and the full energy of the private sector to a single, overarching goal — in 10 years, we will eliminate the need for oil from the entire Middle East and Venezuela,” Obama said.

To set an example, Obama is vowing to convert the entire White House fleet to plug-in hybrid vehicles within one year, and convert all federal vehicle purchases to plug-in hybrids or all-electric by 2012.

Mike Allen contributed to this story.