Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) said Tuesday that soaring energy prices are "putting our economy at risk" as he opened a two-day swing in the Pacific Northwest where gas prices are among the highest in the nation.

"When gas prices hit $2 a gallon, we don't just pay for it at the pump — we pay for it in our towns and our schools and our grocery stores," Kerry said in remarks prepared for delivery.

Kerry flew to Portland, Ore., where he was to visit a depot for school buses that run on gasoline and diesel to highlight the impact energy prices are having on schools, consumers and others.

"Soaring energy prices are putting our economy at risk, but it doesn't have to be this way. We can live in an America that is energy independent," Kerry said.

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The weighted national average for all three grades of gasoline was $2.10 per gallon on Friday, an increase of 14 cents in two weeks, according to the biweekly Lundberg Survey (search) of 8,000 gas stations nationwide.

Kerry is blaming President Bush (search) in two states that have some of the nation's highest gas prices and that are political battlegrounds in the presidential race. On Wednesday in Seattle, Kerry planned to focus on the national security threat posed by dependence on Middle East oil.

In 2000, Democrat Al Gore won Oregon by fewer than 7,000 votes and Washington state by 5 percentage points. Only California and Hawaii have higher gas prices, according to a Kerry campaign study released last week.

Kerry and Bush have different energy plans, but analysts say neither is likely to bring down gasoline prices soon.

Kerry says he would spend $10 billion over 10 years on new plants to manufacture more fuel efficient vehicles. He also would offer up to a $4,000 tax credit for people who buy advanced technology vehicles that get better gas mileage.

Kerry also wants to divert oil being used to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (search) in the short term and bring it to market to bring down prices. And he says his administration would demand that other oil-producing nations increase supply.

Bush emphasizes increased drilling for domestic oil and gas to help wean the country from reliance on foreign energy sources and has proposed billions of dollars in tax incentives to accelerate the development of hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles. Elements of Bush's energy plan are pending in Congress.

The president also supports opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (search) to drilling; Kerry opposes that.

Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt said Kerry has voted against proposals that would lower gas costs and in favor of higher gas taxes.

Kerry's campaign said Bush's mishandling of the war in Iraq (search) has contributed to the increase in gas prices. Kerry policy adviser Sarah Bianchi said the Democrat does not blame the war itself, since higher prices came only recently with the uptick in violence and shaken confidence in the region.

Kerry said he disagrees with the idea that there isn't much that can be done about the situation.

"Soaring energy prices are putting our economy at risk but it doesn't have to be this way," he said.

Kerry was visiting the bus depot at Portland's Parkrose School District, where campaign aides say fuel costs in the first two weeks of May are 60 percent higher than the same period last year.

Higher gas prices are being felt elsewhere in the community, including by businesses and charities, his campaign said. For example, officials said 50 of 350 routes on the Portland Meals on Wheels (search) program are vacant because volunteer drivers can't afford the increases fuel costs.