SPARKS -- Sen. John McCain said Tuesday the United States needs to open up its coastline to oil drilling, build more coal-fired plants and build nuclear power reactors to help wean itself off foreign oil.
In a town hall meeting with about 1,250 frequently cheering attendees, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee also expressed views that are at odds with some in the GOP: that climate change is a reality that must be addressed by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
McCain said the country should use its expertise to develop and improve alternative energy technologies, from hydrogen-powered vehicles to solar-powered electric plants.
But in the short term, the country needs to use all of its energy resources, from coal and offshore oil, to move toward energy independence as quickly as possible, he said. But because of global warming concerns, the country should invest $2 billion a year in research and development in clean coal technology.
"We are sending $700 million dollars a year to countries that don't like us very much," McCain said of the nation's oil purchases. "Some of that money ends up in the hands of terrorist organizations. America cannot do this."
In remarks to the crowd and in a 20-minute interview afterward, McCain spent several minutes on the energy issues facing the country, contrasting his views with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.
"Senator Obama says he wants energy independence," McCain said. "But he's opposed to new drilling at home. He's opposed to nuclear power.
"He believes that every domestic energy source has a problem," McCain said. "I believe every energy source needs to be part of the solution."
The Democratic National Committee criticized McCain's comments on alternative energy, saying he has "consistently voted with (President) Bush and Big Oil and against renewable energy and new energy jobs."
McCain has voted against the kind of tax incentives that would promote investments in renewable energy and create new energy jobs consistently, the committee said in a release. The party also criticized McCain's support of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository.
In response to a question about Yucca Mountain during an interview after his town hall meeting, McCain said a waste repository must be part of the nation's energy plan in part because of national security issues.
But the Arizona senator repeated that Yucca Mountain should be approved only if it can meet all environmental requirements. And the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, as is now done in France, must be part of the equation, he said.
McCain said he wants 45 new nuclear power plants built by 2030.
He told the Nevada crowd that during a previous campaign stop in California, petroleum producers told him there are offshore oil supplies next to existing oil rigs that could be tapped quickly to help with the high price of gasoline, not the five or 10 years that have been suggested by critics of the idea.
Such supplies are needed as a bridge until the county develops its alternative technologies, he said.
Alternative energy sources are the long-term solution to the nation's oil dependence, McCain said, and investment in the technologies will create jobs and help the economy.
During the question-and-answer period of the one-hour campaign stop, a speaker told McCain he was concerned about the senator's stand on several issues, including his view that global warming is a legitimate scientific fact.
McCain said that if he is wrong about global warming, the investment in green energy still will result in a cleaner world for future generations. But McCain said if he is right and the country does nothing, the consequences could be severe.
"Climate change is real, it's taking place, and the question is how do we address it," he said.
McCain said that he believes Nevada will be a battleground state on Election Day and that his knowledge of Western issues, from water to federal lands issues, will serve the state well.
McCain also said he is opposed to the idea of any tax increases as a fix to the federal deficit or Social Security. It is the wrong thing to do during tough economic times, he said, and the solution is to rein in runaway spending, a situation that McCain acknowledged has occurred with support from some in the GOP over the past several years.
After the stop at Reed High School in Sparks, McCain traveled to Incline Village for a fundraiser and then departed for Colorado.