The former two-term Iowa governor, speaking to about 100 people at the Commonwealth Club of California, called energy security "the single most important issue facing America today it affects us every minute of every day" through our health, environment, economy and national security.
Freeing the nation from foreign-oil dependence and global warming's threat will require an effort "more important than the Manhattan Project," which invented the atomic bomb, and "more inspiring than the Apollo space project" that put men on the moon. It must be done and can be achieved with the 50-year plan he set out Tuesday, he said: "Our nation's destiny truly hangs in the balance."
In the shorter term, the nation must deal with its mess in Iraq, Vilsack said, and a nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush's plan to send more troops.
"How many lives are going to be saved with a nonbinding resolution?" he asked rhetorically during a question-and-answer period after his speech. Facing reporters later, he said Congress has "a constitutional and moral responsibility to debate whether we should continue to fund this war."
Wars like this would be less likely if the U.S. didn't depend on Middle Eastern oil as its very lifeblood, Vilsack said during his speech. To that end, he rolled out a seven-point energy security plan:
-Adopt standards requiring all fuel providers by 2010 to reduce the amount of carbon their fuel produces by 1 percent a year for 10 years;
-Offer new tax incentives including a 25-cent-per-gallon credit for production of ethanol not from corn but from cellular fiber such as grasses, timber and agricultural waste;
-Amend the Clean Air Act to require that carbon emissions be cut by 20 percent in each new coal plant built in the U.S. after 2010;
-Require that by 2020, all new U.S. power plants be carbon-free;
-Enact new renewable fuel standards ensuring vehicles are 50 percent more efficient so that by 2030, America's transportation fuel will be wholly domestic and include 60 million gallons of renewable fuels per year, three-fourths of which would be cellular-fiber ethanol, biobutanol or biodiesel;
-Encourage technological innovation and offer incentives to make America's transportation system almost petroleum-free by 2040; and
-Create a nationwide cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions so that the nation reduces such emissions 75 percent by 2050 compared to 2000 levels.
Vilsack pledged his campaign will be the first to "walk the walk:" it'll monitor its monthly travel and electricity use; calculate how much carbon is emitted as a result; and send money to help build clean and renewable energy projects to offset or neutralize that pollution.
His energy goals "are not modest but they also are not pipe dreams," he said, later saying he believes he'll win bipartisan support for this platform by underscoring the world's bleak future for oil supply and demand. Oil companies must be ready to become energy companies, both in order to survive economically and because it's their patriotic duty, he said.
Responding to an audience question, Vilsack said he doesn't fear California's and other states' efforts to move up their 2008 presidential primaries. He said he believes it'll just accentuate the importance of the earliest primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, where kitchen-table meetings let voters find out and tell their counterparts in bigger, more urban states who the candidates really are.
Another Democratic presidential contender, former U.S. Senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards, will be in the Bay Area this week for private fundraising meetings. Two more are due within 10 days: U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., will appear Monday at two fundraisers for colleague Barbara Boxer and hold a fundraising meeting of his own in Silicon Valley, while U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., will appear at a Feb. 23 fundraiser. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was rumored to be coming soon too, but his campaign said Tuesday that hasn't been firmed up yet.
Republican presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani spoke to Silicon Valley executives and venture capitalists Monday in Santa Clara.
See Vilsack's energy plan at http://www.tomvilsack08.com/energysecurityagenda.
Contact Josh Richman at email@example.com or (510) 208-6428. Read the Political Blotter at InsideBayArea.com.