In the 18th century the British parliament offered a £20,000 prize to anyone who figured how to solve the problem of calculating longitude. More recently, Netflix offered a million-dollar prize for improving its movie recommendation software. And now Senator John McCain is suggesting a new, national prize: $300 million for anyone who can develop a better, more efficient car battery.
“I further propose we inspire the ingenuity and resolve of the American people by offering a $300 million prize for the development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars,’’ Mr. McCain said here at California State University, Fresno.
“That’s one dollar, one dollar, for every man, woman and child in the U.S.,’’ he said. “A small price to pay for helping too break the back of our oil dependency, and should deliver a power source at 30 percent of the current costs.’’
He made the proposal as he spoke about improving enforcement of fuel efficiency standards, hastening the conversion of cars to flex-fuel vehicles, and offering tax credits to people who buy zero-emissions cars – stressing issues that are popular in California. (Last week, in Houston, he proposed lifting the moratorium on off-shore drilling for oil, which is considerably less popular here.)
In response to a question at a town-hall-style meeting here, Mr. McCain stressed that while he now supports lifting the moratorium on off-shore drilling, he thinks the decision of whether or not to allow the drilling should be left to the states. “It is up to the states to make those decisions,’’ he said.
At his campaign stop here, Mr. McCain also stressed one of his differences with Senator Barack Obama (without mentioning him by name) by reiterating his opposition to subsides for corn-based ethanol, which Mr. Obama supports.
“Our government pays to subsidize corn-based ethanol even as it collects tariffs that prevent consumers from benefiting from other kinds of ethanol, such as sugarcane-based ethanol from Brazil,’’ he said. “The result is that Americans take the financial hit coming and going. As taxpayers, we foot the bill for the enormous subsides paid to corn producers. And as consumers, we pay extra at the pump because of government barriers to cheaper products from abroad.’’
Mr. McCain, who firmly opposed ethanol when he ran for president in 2000, said this time around that he became a supporter of it when oil grew too expensive; but he has said that he still opposes subsidies for ethanol.
And he issued a not-too veiled threat in urging automakers to step up the conversion of cars to flex-fuel vehicles. “Whether it takes a meeting with automakers during my first month in office, or my signature on an act of Congress,’’ he said, “we will meet the goal of a swift conversion of American vehicles away from oil.’’
Some of the questions from the audience veered away from energy, the topic of his talk. He defended his position on the Iraq war, and, when asked about Mr. Obama’s support of abortion rights, said that he could not understand why someone would oppose banning late-term abortions, calling it “one of the hideous procedures.’’
And he reiterated his opposition to abortion rights, quoting the preamble to the Declaration of Independence about the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “I believe that those words apply to the unborn as well as the born,’’ he said.
So, are you in?