Standing at a gas station where regular unleaded was selling for $3.49 a gallon, Republican congressional candidate Dave Schweikert challenged opponent Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., to help promote more domestic oil drilling.
Mitchell's campaign spokesman said Mitchell already is doing precisely that.
Schweikert's news conference at a Shell station in Scottsdale on Tuesday morning came as Mitchell and other members of the House of Representatives were preparing to vote later in the day on a proposal that would relax a ban on offshore drilling.
The measure was intended to allow drilling as close as 50 miles to states that support drilling and as close as 100 miles toall states, with exceptions for some parts of the Gulf of Mexico along Florida.
Members of the House had not voted on the measure by late evening in Washington and Mitchell was unavailable for comment.
However, Mitchell's campaign spokesman, Seth Scott, noted that Mitchell has supported previous drilling measures and co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that would have allowed offshore drilling as close as 25 miles to states that supported it.
Schweikert dismissed Tuesday's proposed legislation as a con job orchestrated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and other Democrats.
"Let's face it it's a fake-out on the American people," Schweikert said.
"If they're not going to do true exploration of American resources, if we're really not going to promote offshore drilling, if we're not really going to promote refinery capacity, then I think they need to go back, maybe actually have a conversation with Republicans across the aisle and come up with something that actually helps the American people."
Schweikert, the former Maricopa County treasurer, said he supports a "large pallet" energy policy that would promote drilling off-shore and in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
It would encourage development of new U.S. oil refineries that he says ideally would be built on closed military bases.
Furthermore, his plan would include government investment into development of solar, wind, biomass and other alternative energy sources.
The domestic oil components would serve as stop-gap measures while the alternative sources are brought to market, he said.
"The hard reality is if you look at what's behind me, it's a gas station," Schweikert said. "What did you put in your tank this last week? It's fuel. You didn't get to plug your car in. You didn't necessarily get to hook it up with wind power or solar. We have to deal with some reality right now."
Mitchell's spokesman said Mitchell believes that additional drilling is part of a "comprehensive" energy program.
Scott said Mitchell's approach includes drilling offshore and in Alaska, plus developing new oil refineries such as a proposed facility near Yuma, raising auto fuel efficiency standards, and encouraging development of alternative energy sources including solar.
"We need someone who's going to say, 'We need to put everything on the table,'" Scott said. "Drilling alone isn't going to solve the crisis. We have to expand exploration and proven technologies. We have to have greater efficiencies and we have to invest in alternate sources of energy."
Mitchell favors drilling in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve, which is closer than ANWR to existing pipelines. Mitchell often echoes Arizona senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain's stance that drilling in ANWR would equate to drilling in the Grand Canyon.
"We need to expand in areas that are responsible and that's why he supports fast-tracking drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve," said Mitchell's spokesman.
The National Petroleum Reserve is a 23-million acre area on the state's north central coast that has a history of nearly 100 years of petroleum exploration, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. It is close to the state's existing oil fields and pipeline system at Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope.
At ANWR further to the east, oil companies have long been interested in exploring and potentially drilling in the refuge's 1.5-million acre coastal plain, home to migrating caribou and other wildlife.