SAN ANTONIO — Republican Sen. John McCain criticized Sen. Barack Obama's call for a windfall profits tax on the oil industry on Tuesday, despite leaving the door open to the same idea last month.
The presumed GOP nominee leveled his attack in prepared remarks in which he said the next president must be willing to break with policies of both the Bush and Clinton administrations to reduce dependence on foreign oil.
"This was a troubling situation 35 years ago. It was an alarming situation 20 years ago. It is a dangerous situation today," the Republican presidential contender said.
While McCain was speaking in Texas, the energy-producing state that is home to President Bush, he is attempting to chart his own course on energy issues. He parts company at times with the Bush administration as he courts independent voters, opposing drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, for example. Yet he announced on Monday he favors lifting the federal moratorium on offshore drilling to allow states to decide whether to explore coastal waters, an approach backed by Bush that drew quick criticism from some environmentalists.
McCain criticized Obama, his Democratic rival, repeatedly in excerpts of a speech planned for delivery Tuesday evening. He cited Obama's advocacy of a tax on excess oil industry profits as well as the Democrat's vote for President Bush's energy legislation in 2005.
McCain reserved his sharpest words for the windfall profits tax.
"If that plan sounds familiar, it's because that was President Carter's big idea, too. ... I'm all for recycling, but it's better applied to paper and plastic than to the failed policies of the 1970s," McCain said in the excerpts.
But on May 5, campaigning in North Carolina, McCain said he was willing to consider the same proposal.
"I don't like obscene profits being made anywhere. I'd be glad to look not just at the windfall profits tax, that's not what bothers me, but we should look at any incentives that we are giving to people - or industries or corporations - that are distorting the markets," he said.
A spokeswoman said McCain had neither erred in his earlier comment nor changed his mind since. "He said he is willing to look at all ideas not simply Republican or Democratic ideas," said Jill Hazelbaker, McCain's communications director.
McCain said in 2005 he opposed the energy bill in part because, "big oil, coal and gas companies seem to be disproportionately favored under this bill as most of the tax breaks go to traditional industries" at the expense of renewable sources. He also said the measure was too costly.
In the excerpts, McCain said United States' dependence on foreign oil has grown markedly worse since the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s.
He said he favors lifting the existing moratorium on offshore oil drilling and leaving it up to the states to decide whether to explore for energy sources in coastal waters.
That amounted to a reversal from his position in his first presidential campaign in 2000, when he said he favored the existing ban.
He also called for greater use of nuclear power as well as for alternative energy sources and greater conservation measures.
"Over time, we must shift our entire energy economy toward a sustainable mix of new and cleaner power sources. This will include some we use already, such as wind, solar, biofuels, and other sources yet to be invented.
"It will include a variety of new automotive and fuel technologies - clean-burning coal and nuclear energy - and a new system of incentives, under a cap-and-trade policy, to put the power of the market on the side of environmental protection," he said.
The campaign also began airing a new television ad on Tuesday to draw attention to McCain's call for cutting back on the pollutants that cause global warming. The ad, meant to appeal particularly to independent voters and women, portrays McCain as an adversary of President Bush on climate change.
"John McCain stood up to the president and sounded the alarm on global warming - five years ago," the ad states. "Today, he has a realistic plan that will curb greenhouse gas emissions. A plan that will help grow our economy and protect our environment."
The ad replaces another McCain commercial that focused on McCain's family tradition of military service and recalled his five years as a prisoner of war. McCain is spending at least $2 million a week on advertising, airing a modest number of spots on national cable and in broadcast stations in the battleground states of Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado, Missouri, New Mexico, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Iowa. McCain has also been on the air West Virginia markets that reach regions in Ohio.