Nation & World

Energy plays in Congress races

The four men vying to represent Thurston County voters in Congress say the United States needs more energy independence. But they propose distinctly different directions - from moon-shot-sized agendas to straightforward drilling for oil.

"I think we need an Apollo-like energy project, the way Kennedy said we need to have a man on the moon by '69," said U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, the Democratic incumbent in the 3rd District. "We need to set that kind of project, that kind of priority, with clear benchmarks and then make sure folks get there."

By providing tax incentives and imposing requirements favoring alternative fuels and more energy-efficient transportation and buildings, the United States could move away from its reliance on foreign oil, Baird said.

His challenger, Republican Michael Messmore of Toledo, adopted a less futuristic plan before The Olympian's editorial board, which interviewed the candidates Friday.

Messmore noted that there is more U.S. oil available, and said he supports opening new drilling operations in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - which Baird and fellow Democrat Rep. Adam Smith have opposed.

"I'm in favor of managing our supplies and going out and seeking new sources of energy, new types of energy. But I've been to ANWR; I've been to Alaska," said Messmore, a retired commercial pilot. "You can extract oil very well out of there without doing any damage."

Baird and Messmore are squaring off in the 3rd District, which includes Olympia and Tumwater, as well as the territory south to the Oregon border.

Smith's Republican challenger, Steve Cofchin of Tacoma, also supports drilling in the refuge, and off U.S. coasts, if it can be done with minimal environmental impact.

He said the additional oil would help reduce dependency on foreign oil while the United States moves to another prime energy source.

"Bearing in mind the goal is to have a nonfossil-fuel-based economy, we just have to," Cofchin said. The country should heavily invest in alternative energies like wind and hydroelectric power, he said.

The Republican majority in Congress has prevented Democrats from doing just that, Smith said.

"It's vexing to me because it's so simple. It's right there. And yet we keep passing these energy bills that continue to subsidize the existing oil industry," Smith said.

"Everyone's got this impression, 'Yeah, sure they're developing biofuels and fuel cells, all this other stuff. That's 20, 30 years away. What are we going to do now?' It is not 20, 30 years away. ... It is right here, right now, if we want to seize the opportunity."

Cofchin and Smith are battling in the 9th District, which includes Lacey and eastern Thurston County.

A fifth man is running for Congress inside Thurston County, Jed Whittaker. Whittaker is running as a write-in candidate in the 3rd District and will not appear on the ballot.

Adam Wilson covers state workers and politics for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-753-1688 or

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