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Government, Politics & Issues

Missouri among targets of various campaigns to curb use of Middle East oil

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 5, 2010 - While Washington seems to be riveted on health care, much of the political activity back home in Missouri is focusing on energy.

St. Louis area television viewers, for example, are likely today to catch the newest political ad -- paid for by VoteVets.org -- that contends the safety of U.S. soldiers is threatened by the lack of a national energy policy.

The ad contends that the U.S. spends too much money on gas and oil purchased overseas from Middle Eastern countries with terrorism ties.

But what rivets the viewer are the ad's shots of American soldiers under fire from bombs and other devices that VoteVets contends are being purchased by U.S. enemies with the money that the U.S. spends overseas on oil.

An earlier VoteVets ad with a similar theme aimed its ire at U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Springfield and Missouri's best-known GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate.

This latest spot singles out U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

At a news conference here Thursday, spokesmen with the Operation Free coalition promoting the spot said the ad is being paid for via VoteVets' political-action committee. Close to $100,000 is being spent on major Missouri TV markets: St. Louis Kansas City, Springfield and Columbia-Jefferson City.

The ad also is airing on national cable stations, including CNN and MSNBC. Similar versions are running in seven other states, targeting various senators.

McCaskill is highlighted in the Missouri spot, an Operation Free spokesman said, because she's among the senators who have yet to take a solid stance for or against the energy bill that passed the U.S. House last summer and appears to be stuck in the Senate. A big sticking point has been the cap-and-trade provision that caps pollution emissions and requires companies who exceed the limits to basically "trade" with lesser-polluting firms.

McCaskill has said that the House version is a non-starter, and that major changes would need to be made before she could support such an energy bill. Missouri's other member of the U.S. Senate, Republican Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., has flatly declared his opposition.

The ad features young Army veteran Christopher Miller, who hails from Carbondale, Ill.

Miller, who was at the St. Louis news conference, said the ad was not attacking McCaskill or any other politicians. "We're just calling for leadership here. We know our addiction to oil is hurting us. Basically, we're asking Sen. McCaskill to take the lead."

McCaskill said in a statement Friday, “Every American is anxious to cut our dependence on foreign oil, but we also have to be mindful of families on fixed incomes, small businesses, and our ability to compete in a worldwide economy. “

Miller and other vets at the news conference also said they weren't tied to the House version, and were simply advocating some sort of bill that promotes alternative and cleaner energy sources.

At last weekend's state GOP Lincoln Days, Blunt contended that VoteVets and its allies were simply trying to help his likely Democratic rival for the U.S. Senate, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who has not commented on the ads.

Blunt opposes the House energy bill and contends that it punishes states like Missouri that rely heavily on coal for energy production.

But Blunt also acknowledged that the earlier VoteVets ad had an impact among viewers, since he had gotten queries from even Republicans who asked if his energy stance was helping terrorists. Blunt maintained that it was not, but also emphasized in speeches last week that he backed all forms of energy -- newer, cleaner sources as well as fossil fuels.

Miller and other VoteVets veterans also stopped Thursday in Blunt's hometown of Springfield, Mo.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, another pro-alternative fuels group -- 1Sky and Repower America, business owners, Veterans for Peace, and environmental activists -- conducted a phone bank in the St. Louis that also targeted McCaskill.

The callers asked listeners if they could automatically transfer the call to McCaskill's office, and implored the listener to tell the senator's staff that they wanted her to vote for an energy bill that would curb U.S. use of oil and gas from the Middle East and support "comprehensive climate legislation that will generate millions of clean energy jobs domestically."

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This afternoon, Gov. Jay Nixon also focused on energy -- and the need to curb it -- by announcing that the state Capitol dome "will go dark for one hour on March 27 to remind Missourians of the little things everyone can do to conserve energy – and save money."

Missouri is among 19 states that are observing what's known as "Earth Hour," which is sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund.

Millions of Americans are being asked to "turn out their lights to promote energy conservation" during the designated hour, which is at 8:30 p.m. (local time) on Saturday, March 27.

According to Nixon's office, the Gateway Arch, Busch Stadium, Soldiers’ Memorial and St. Louis City Hall are among the participating Missouri buildings and landmarks.

Elsewhere, participating structures include: Sea World in Orlando, "The Strip" in Las Vegas, New York’s Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Washington, D.C.’s National Cathedral, California’s Santa Monica Pier and the Space Needle in Seattle.

"When it comes to conserving energy and saving money, big changes start with small steps — like turning off the lights," Nixon said in a statement.

"Last year, I ordered government departments to reduce their energy consumption by 2 percent a year for 10 years. In the first year alone, we’ve cut our energy bill by more than 6 percent.

"During Earth Hour 2010, we’ll turn off the lights on our Capitol dome for one hour as a clear reminder of the simple steps we can all take to make a real difference. And even after we turn the lights back on, my administration will continue to work diligently to save energy — and taxpayer dollars — for the people of Missouri."

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