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GOP hopefuls tout energy independence
06.01 GOP forum
Congressional candidate John Stone, right, thanks the Savannah Young Republicans as opponents Ben Crystal, left, and Ray McKinney applaud. The Savannah Young Republicans held a forum Thursday night for the 12th District GOP candidates. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

GOP forum-John Stone

John Stone at the GOP 12th District forum

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GOP forum-Ray McKinney

Ray McKinney at the 12th District GOP forum

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GOP forum-Ben Crystal

Ben Crystal at the 12th District Republican forum

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SAVANNAH — GOP hopefuls for the 12th District Congressional seat agree on at least one thing — there isn’t enough being done to allow for exploration of oil and gas resources within the U.S.

Republican candidates for the seat currently held by Savannah Democrat John Barrow Ben Crystal, Ray McKinney and John Stone said they would push for long-term approaches involving greater offshore drilling and opening the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. But their short-range solutions differ.

Crystal, a former Savannah talk radio host, said there are 2.1 trillion barrels of oil captured in the oil shale deposits in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado.

“We don’t touch it. It’s ours,” he said. “The world’s current oil petroleum reserves are 1.317 billion (barrels). We’re not talking about an energy independence being available in our Western states; we’re talking about a true American energy domination. It’s our oil and we don’t touch it because our government has said forget about it.

Crystal laid the blame at Greenpeace and the Earth Liberation Front for blocking the exploration of the oil shale reserves.

“We’ll take it back,” he said. “Anwar is nothing compared to our oil shale.”

Crystal also lamented that China has drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico, but the U.S. is restricting how much exploration can be done there. He also said that no matter how much more oil is pumped and put into the market, it won’t be the only step.

“If our refinery capacity hasn’t expanded, it won’t matter,” he said.

McKinney said in the short term, the nation can build the current supply by suspending the addition of oil into the national strategic reserve by putting its oil royalties on the open market.

“But that’s a quick fix,” he said.

What’s also hurt has been the weak U.S. dollar. Its decreasing value has helped drive oil prices skyward.

“Being fiscally responsible will bring the value of the dollar back up,” McKinney said.

Stone has called for a suspension of federal and state fuel taxes to bring the cost at the pump down and wants to remove the tariff on import ethanol.

“It’s devastating,” Stone said of the fuel prices. “If we don’t do something immediately, it’s going to drive us into a recession.”

The House Republican Caucus voted earlier this week to repeal the 18.5 cent per gallon federal tax, but that move faces an uncertain future on Capitol Hill.

Stone also wants to end the tax subsidies to oil companies, which he said run to almost $17 billion, and put that money in the federal highway trust fund instead to offset the loss of gas tax revenues.

Stone, a staffer for former U.S. Rep. Max Burns, said the Republican-controlled House approved the exploration and drilling the three candidates support now.

“In 1995, the new Republican House voted to allow drilling in ANWR, allow drilling offshore and build new refineries, and it was all vetoed by Bill Clinton,” he said.

Stone also evoked the name of Democratic President John F. Kennedy and his 1962 challenge to put a man on the moon in 10 years.

“We need to commit to energy independence in 10 years,” he said. “We need to expand hydro power and expand the use of clean-burning coal. We need to make the Department of Energy the NASA of the 21st century.”

But his competitors chastised his stance on the oil company subsidies because of the difference between profits and profit margins.

“Last year, the oil companies paid $138 billion in taxes,” McKinney said. “The American people paid $130 billion. Right now, Russia is coming up with tax breaks for their oil companies to find more oil.”

Said Crystal: “Microsoft made more than ExxonMobil last year.”

Crystal also said that little venom has been directed at CITGO, the Venezuelan national oil company, but the four major U.S. oil companies have been targets of criticism.

“It’s easy to pick on our guys,” he said.

Stone said he wasn’t suggesting a tax increase on American oil companies.

“Our working folks need that tax cut more than the oil companies do,” he said. “I support a free market as a Republican. But when you have four companies controlling the oil in the U.S., that’s not a free market.”

Crystal and McKinney also made the call for a wider use of nuclear power.

“We haven’t built a new reactor in 30 years,” Crystal said.

McKinney said the U.S. has lost the technology to do that kind of work.

“We have over 100 operating units in this country, and we can no longer build one,”  he said. “With 23 years of experience in the energy field, I know what this country can do and I know what the holdups are.”

All three espoused free trade and fair trade and dismissed the notions that the Republicans face an even bleaker future in the 2008 elections than they did in the 2006 vote.

“We live in a world where on a daily basis we are reminded of government’s failures,” Crystal said. “We are a party of true change. The greatest moments that have occurred in the nation’s history have been led on by the Grand Old Party, the party of Lincoln, the party of civil rights, the party of Ronald Reagan, the party that says the global war on terror must be won and decisively, not incrementally.”

McKinney said when Hillary Clinton remarked that the Republican Party had forgotten the middle class, he was spurred to action.

Stone said a Republican candidate can win back the seat that Barrow first won from Burns in 2004.

“This is a golden year for Republicans in this district,” he said. “We can win this seat back, and we can win our party back from the people on Wall Street who hijacked it.”

Stone said that while Republicans are quick to cast Democrats as the tax and spend party, the GOP leadership has let the nation down.

“Once we had all three branches of government, the Republicans became the party of just plain spend,” Stone said.

“And that’s absolutely intolerable.

“We need to put our Republican Party back on the right course, because it’s been hijacked by Wall Street.”

Though the 12th District stretches from western Chatham up the Savannah River valley to Augusta and Taliaferro County, Stone said there is a lot in common for its residents.

“Our district is historic, colonial Georgia,” he said. “We have historic, cultural and economic ties unlike any Congressional district I’ve ever seen. We are original Georgia.”