From NBC/NJ's Adam Aigner-Treworgy
SANTA BARBARA, CA -- Usually McCain's panel discussions feature a stage full of experts in a given field telling the Arizona senator how great his proposals would be for the country. But at today's discussion on energy at the Museum of Natural History here, one panelist didn't get the memo.
Michael Feeney, the executive director of the land trust for Santa Barbara County and a professional land conservationist, took issue with some of McCain's environmental policies, accusing both McCain and fellow panelist Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of being too willing to compromise on environmental standards in devising energy solutions.
"I've heard both of the elected officials here [today] say in various forms and others say that we need to solve our energy and our national security and our economic security problems without compromising or stepping back from our environmental standards," Feeney began. But he then gave several examples of proposals that McCain supports that -- in his view -- would compromise the advances this country has made in cleaning up the air and "protecting land for future generations."
"I don't understand how it's not compromising our environmental standards to propose a crash program to build more nuclear power plants when the industry has not complied with the federal law that requires there to be safe disposal for the radioactive waste," Feeney said, alluding to McCain's proposal to put the country on a path to building 45 new nuclear reactors by 2030.
Feeney also took issue with McCain's controversial proposal to lift the moratorium on offshore oil exploration: "It makes me nervous to think about those who are proposing to drain America's offshore oil and gas reserves as quickly as possible in the hopes of driving down the price of gasoline, because I think when you look at the good sources of information, were we to open up the California coast or the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, it would be 12, 15, maybe 20 years before those resources came online and got to full productions."
Adding that some research shows that drilling in ANWR would only "reduce our dependence on foreign oil from 70% to 67%," Feeney added, "I'm not sure most Americans would think that's really worth the price of admission."
McCain listened respectfully to Feeney's comments and when he was finished the only topic that the candidate took issue with was Feeney's condemnation of nuclear power.
"My friend the technology is there," McCain said on dealing with spent nuclear fuel. "The Europeans do it. I mean it's safe, it's being done, so to think that that is going to require some pain on the American people economically when the Europeans, 80% of the French electricity is generated by nuclear power. They're doing fine."