$300 million bounty for better battery

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - John McCain offered plans yesterday to develop more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, drawing a warm welcome from energy analysts.

Environmentalists were more cautious, warning that new vehicles might trade one problem for another if they just plug into coal-burning power plants.


The Republican presidential candidate's proposals to increase energy efficiency, rolled out in Fresno, Calif., came atop his proposal last week to boost supply by opening off-shore sites to oil drilling and sought to match environmental concerns to energy anxiety.

Among his proposals: a $300 million bounty to anyone who develops a powerful, long-lasting car battery to leap past pending hybrid or plug-in cars; tougher enforcement of mileage standards for cars and light trucks; a quicker transition to flex-fuel vehicles that can use alcohol-based fuel rather than gasoline; and a $5,000 tax credit to consumers to spark development of a zero-emission car.


"In the quest for alternatives to oil, our government has thrown around enough money subsidizing special interests and excusing failure," McCain said. "From now on, we will encourage heroic efforts in engineering, and we will reward the greatest successes."

Julie Bovey, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental group, said it was "extremely positive" that McCain was talking about clean cars and seeking to extend car-battery power and life.

However, she said the environmental advocacy group had concerns about how the new battery-powered cars would be charged.

"When we think about batteries, the question is whether we are plugging it into a green grid or a grid powered by old-fashioned dirty coal plants or new nuclear plants," Bovey said. "If we plug it into green grids, then we've really got something."

McCain's latest energy proposal reflects how rapidly gasoline prices have risen to a top issue in the presidential campaign.

Democratic rival Barack Obama also proposes new energy-efficient technology, with a promise to spend $150 billion over 10 years to spark development.

McCain criticized America's research and development and incentives to wean itself from foreign oil as inadequate.

"Right now we have a hodgepodge of incentives for the purchase of fuel-efficient cars," he said yesterday. "Different hybrids and natural-gas cars carry different incentives, ranging from a few hundred dollars to four grand."


Obama's campaign dismissed McCain's ideas as too little and too much of a shift from the Arizona senator's record to be trusted.

"A bogus solution to a major problem," said Jason Furman, the economic policy director for Obama's campaign.

Obama aides also questioned the commitment behind McCain's election-year proposals, noting that he had voted three times in recent years against raising mileage standards.

In other campaign developments yesterday:

* McCain distanced himself from comments in which top adviser Charlie Black said another terrorist attack this year on U.S. soil would benefit his candidacy against Obama. Black, who has been in the spotlight for his past work as a lobbyist, is quoted in the July 7 edition of Fortune magazine as saying such an attack "certainly would be a big advantage to him."

Black also was quoted as saying the "unfortunate event" of the assassination of Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto "helped us."


McCain was startled by the attack comment when asked about it during a news conference after the Fresno speech. "I cannot imagine why he would say it. It's not true," McCain said. "I've worked tirelessly since 9/11 to prevent another attack on the United States of America. My record is very clear."

* Obama, in Albuquerque, N.M., talked about the women who helped shape his life in arguing that he would be a better proponent of equal pay than McCain. Obama told how he was raised by a single mother and his grandmother, who made sacrifices to support their family. He said McCain opposed legislation earlier this year that would have made it easier for women to sue their employers for pay discrimination. Obama supported the bill.

"I'll continue to stand up for equal pay as president - Senator McCain won't, and that's a real difference in this election," Obama said.

* Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton plan to campaign together Friday in the small New Hampshire town of Unity, their first joint appearance meant to ease tensions over the closely fought Democratic primary.

The location, announced yesterday, was chosen not only for the symbolism of its name, but because each candidate received exactly 107 votes there in the Jan. 8 primary.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.