Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday challenged the oil industry to lead the way to develop cleaner sources of energy to help tackle the nation's growing energy security problem.
"It is time for the oil companies to become energy companies," Clinton said.
Appearing before a crowd of more than 800 at the George R. Brown Convention Center just days ahead of Tuesday's Texas primary, Clinton likened the need to deal with the nation's energy security woes to the beginnings of the space race.
"We will get back to what we did so successfully after Sputnik went up," Clinton said.
Clinton was alone among the presidential hopefuls to join what was largely an energy industry crowd at the Greater Houston Partnership's America's Energy Future: Houston's Presidential Summit.
And despite that audience, she reiterated her pledge to end tax subsidies for the oil companies and to redirect that money to create new energy sources.
"I do not believe that now is the time when subsidies for the oil companies are necessary and appropriate," Clinton said. Instead, "it is now time to subsidize new forms of energy."
Less than two hours later, she attended a rally of an estimated 5,000 enthusiastic supporters in northwest Houston.
Reaction from the summit crowd, by contrast, was polite but fairly tepid, with business leaders remaining largely silent through most of the speech. About 150 members of the general public, who bagged free tickets for the event provided the most exuberant response.
"I thought it was terrific," said Colleen O'Brien of Pearland, who was impressed with the great detail of what Clinton called "more than a plan ... a strategy."
William Sweeney, Jr., vice president of government affairs for EDS, called it a "gutsy speech," coming to Houston to express a point of view that many in the audience didn't share.
With oil prices shooting up nearly $3 on Thursday to set a new record of $102.59 a barrel, Clinton told of meeting a man in largely rural southern Ohio who drives 71 miles to work and said the greatest economic challenge his family faces are gasoline prices.
If elected, Clinton said she would create a new National Energy Council, patterned after the National Economic Council and the National Security Council to deal with energy issues.
Clinton's speech capped off a day-long event featuring top executives addressing topics such as energy supply, conservation and renewable energy sources. And she has a very different view than much of the oil and gas industry.
She opposes, for instance, opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — believed to be the largest, untapped oil deposit left onshore in the United States — to oil and gas exploration.
But then her Democratic rival, Barack Obama, as well as John McCain, the likely Republican nominee, likewise oppose opening the refuge to drilling.
Clinton sole candidate to participate
Partnership officials had tried for months to attract all the presidential hopefuls to speak at the energy summit.
"Sen. Clinton is the only presidential candidate who saw the necessity of coming to this great summit," said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, a Clinton supporter. Clinton's presence at the forum "says she's willing to listen. She's willing to engage," Jackson Lee said.
Shell Oil Co. President John Hofmeister said Houston business leaders were "naturally disappointed" that other candidates declined to attend.
"But we don't tell presidential candidates where to spend their days," Hofmeister said.
While her views may be at odds with the oil and gas industry, Clinton still has received more money from the sector than any of the other remaining presidential hopefuls.
The most recent campaign finance reports filed by the candidates show Clinton has received $792,588 from energy and natural resources sector in this 2008 presidential race, according to the Washington-based watchdog Center for Responsive Politics.
That's more than both Obama — with $727,801 in contributions from the sector — has received and even more than McCain, who has picked up $630,650 in donations, the group said, using Federal Election Commission data released as of Feb. 20.
Rally at Delmar Fieldhouse
Following her summit speech, Clinton attended a late-night rally at the Delmar Fieldhouse in northwest Houston, where she told supporters, who were warmed up before her arrival by a mariachi band and a female Elvis impersonator, that she would win Texas.
"I have a feeling, and it's beginning to grow," Clinton told the crowd. "We are going to make it happen on Tuesday."
A Clinton aide said the campaign estimated 5,000 were drawn to the 6,000-seat arena.
Some like Bob Schoellkoph, 69, and his friend Axel Olsen, 64, arrived three hours before the doors opened to be first in line for the event.
"I've always been a Yellow Dog Democrat, all my life," said Schoellkoph, a real estate agent. "I support Hillary because she can carry on the legacy of President Clinton, which was really super, and she can pull us out of the deep ditch the Republicans got us in."
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