What we have in President Bush's long-awaited energy program is a failure to communicate. His Energy Department conducted hearings in 48 states, in 18 months talking to 448 witnesses and poring over 200,000 pages of documents. What was said, by witnesses and members of Congress on both sides of the partisan aisle, convinced some Bush aides that conservation and environmental concerns had reached high status on the public's agenda. Energy Secretary James Watkins, nobody's description of a card-carrying Green, included several major energy-saving plans in his recommendations, but (and here's the disconnect) those were deleted in the White House's final proposals.
What's left are plans to boost domestic oil production and provide new encouragement for nuclear power, hydroelectric power and expanded natural gas exploration. The last world-class domestic oil find, Alaska's Prudhoe Bay, is already dwindling after only 13 years' draining. Mr. Bush's Interior Department has long been a proponent of opening up Alaska National Wildlife Reserve to exploration, but even its best estimates show an expected reservoir of 3.6 billion barrels of oil.
That's a third the size of Prudhoe Bay, not enough to dent imports that provide half this country's 17.3 million barrel-a-day oil use. Hydroelectric power is clean, but the most productive sites have long been harnessed. Drilling for oil in marginal basins, or prospecting for gas in environmentally sensitive areas will not be politically popular. And nuclear power carries its own baggage: no new plants have been planned in a decade.