Environmentalists say Bush's energy plan should be greener Groups to lobby for more energy measures.

February 21, 1991|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Evening Sun Staff

WASHINGTON -- Environmental groups and their allies in Congress say they will attempt to have more conservation measures included in President Bush's National Energy Strategy.

Critics say the strategy released yesterday emphasizes production over energy conservation and doesn't do enough to reduce consumption by the greatest users of petroleum products -- automobiles and trucks.

"It's very weak on energy conservation, on promoting energy efficiency, where we can realize very significant savings in energy use and ease markedly the difficult energy situation in which we find ourselves," said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md.

"Those are all measures that have a fairly quick return in terms of improving our situation," Sarbanes said.

Maryland Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, a new member of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, said "most members of Congress would like to see us become more efficient and I think Congress will put its tilt on that."

McMillen opposes the administration's proposal to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. "I would counter to the president, we have enough shale and coal that could, with technology, be turned" into an equivalent source of energy, he said.

Melanie Griffith, of the Sierra Club, an environmental group, termed the strategy a "joke."

"It's got virtually no efficiency in it, particularly in the areas we really need it, with automobiles and trucks," she said. "Instead, half the strategy deals with increasing our reliance on oil, basically exploring more and drilling more, and continuing subsidies to these commercially mature and profitable industries rather than making any kind of investment in, say, renewable energy."

The U.S. Department of Energy prepared the strategy over 18 months after holding public hearings across the country. Administration officials say that by the year 2010, the strategy would reduce oil use by 3.4 million barrels a day and increase domestic oil production by 3.8 million barrels.

Oil imports would be cut from 65 percent to between 40 percent and 45 percent, they say. The strategy also projects a 16 percent increase in electricity produced from renewable sources, such as solar energy and hydropower.

A key goal of the strategy would increase the use of alternative transportation fuels, such as compressed natural gas, ethanol and methanol, thereby slicing oil consumption by 2 million barrels a day.

But critics say this step isn't enough to reduce the fuel appetite of the transportation sector, which accounts for two-thirds of all petroleum used, at a cost of about $200 billion. They say other steps, such as improving federal fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles, must be taken.

The present fuel efficiency standard is 27.5 miles per gallon of gasoline. The administration argues against raising fuel economy requirements now, saying they fall disproportionately on manufacturers and fail to address safety concerns arising from the manufacture of smaller, lighter vehicles.

The strategy calls for a federal study to "determine feasible fuel economy levels for the next decade and determine costs to manufacturers and consumers," taking into account pollution requirements incorporated in the revised federal Clean Air Act passed last year as well as the "economic health an capabilities of the auto industry."

In the meantime, the administration would promote use of alternative-fuel vehicles, expand research and development of "clean, energy-efficient" systems, encourage use of mass transit and ride-sharing and provide incentives for the scrapping of old gas-guzzlers.

Alternative fuels already are being used in some places. In pilot programs, Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. is equipping some state vehicles to burn compressed natural gas and is working with the Maryland Mass Transit Administration to do the same with buses. BG&E also is converting some of its own vehicles to natural gas.

The administration's approach drew praise from General Motors Corp., which has a plant in Baltimore. The company said in a statement that it is "committed to the development of vehicles that run on electricity, natural gas and alcohol-based fuels" and to "improved fuel efficiency for gasoline vehicles."

But Sarbanes said it is a "mistake" not to tighten federal fuel efficiency standards. Despite what the strategy says, he said the proposed 1992 budget shows that the administration is "trying to withdraw from any commitment to mass transit."

Marnie Stetson of Worldwatch Institute, a non-profit environmental think tank, said increasing the standard to 40 miles per gallon would save 2 million barrels of oil a day. Alternative fuel technology is "not as tried and true as fuel efficiency," which "can be done on a wider scale," she said.

McMillen said tighter fuel efficiency standards are a "longer-term solution" because it takes several years for them to have an impact. For more immediate benefit, he suggested "a revenue neutral tax that maybe subsidizes, or rebates, gas sippers and increases taxes on gas guzzlers."

Sarbanes said the national energy strategy is "a major issue on the congressional agenda, but I expect it's going to be substantially altered or modified."

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