Economy comes first, Bush says

President places people's energy needs ahead of environment

March 30, 2001|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush said yesterday that he will not support environmental policies that could further weaken America's economy at a time when the nation is grappling with an "energy crisis."

That is why, Bush said, America's allies cannot expect his administration to back efforts to reduce global warming that involve new restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions. Such curbs, the president asserted, would overburden power plants, cost many coal miners their jobs and cause energy prices to soar.

"I will not accept a plan that will harm our economy and hurt American workers," Bush said, appearing confident at his second White House news conference. "First things first are the people who live in America.

"That's my priority. And I'm worried about the economy. I'm worried about the lack of an energy policy. I'm worried about rolling blackouts in California. It is in our national interest that we develop a strong energy policy with realistic, commonsense environmental policy."

Bush said he would "be working with our allies to reduce greenhouse gases" in ways other than imposing new restrictions on power plants. But so far, he has been unable to allay concerns in Europe and Japan over his decision to break a campaign pledge by opposing the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions by power plants.

Other nations are also frustrated that the Bush administration has withdrawn its support of the Kyoto Treaty, a 1997 international accord intended to fight global warming that was signed by President Bill Clinton. After meeting with Bush later yesterday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the leaders had "agreed on practically everything - except the global warming issue."

Bush has been criticized in recent weeks for his reversal on carbon dioxide emissions, as well as for other moves viewed as unfriendly to the environment. Yesterday, the president defended his decision to roll back a Clinton administration regulation that would have imposed a more stringent limit on the amount of arsenic allowed in drinking water.

"There had been no change in the ... accepted arsenic level in water since the '40s," Bush said. "At the very last minute, my predecessor made a decision, and we pulled back his decision so that we can make a decision based upon sound science and what's realistic."

Television viewers saw a president who seemed more in command yesterday than during his first White House news conference last month, when his humor seemed forced and some deliveries fell awkwardly. This time, he was thoroughly relaxed, even effervescent at times.

Bush said that after nine weeks in office, he believes he has dispelled skepticism about his ability to lead, particularly among the foreign leaders he has met.

"I'm sure there were some concerns initially, because they didn't know me," Bush said. "And they heard all kinds of rumors about what our administration would be about. And now I have the chance to sit down and talk to them, face to face. I'm a pretty straightforward fellow."

The president also began to acknowledge, albeit tacitly, that parts of his agenda are encountering trouble in a Congress that is closely divided.

Republican leaders, for example, have deemed all but futile their efforts to collect enough votes to approve Bush's proposal to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling for oil and natural gas. As a result, House leaders did not even include Bush's plan to generate revenue from drilling in the Arctic refuge in the House budget resolution that was passed this week.

"That's not going to deter me," the president said, before warning members of Congress that there will be more drilling - somewhere - whether or not they support it in the wildlife refuge.

The Interior Department, Bush vowed, will be exploring other sites around the country that could be reservoirs for energy but are not protected from drilling. If he has to, the president said, he would rely on Mexico or Canada to export enough energy to the United States to boost domestic supplies.

"There's gas in our hemisphere," Bush said. "And the fundamental question is, where's it going to come from? I'd like it to be American gas.

"I'm interested in getting more energy supply so that businesses can grow and people can heat their homes. We've got a shortage of energy in America. And it doesn't matter to me where the gas comes from."

The news conference, a wide-ranging 30-minute appearance, was announced yesterday morning less than an hour before it began. In opening remarks, Bush thanked the House for approving his $1.94 trillion budget blueprint, which the Senate has not yet acted on, and he repeated calls for an end to Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Then he covered such topics as his prickly relationship with Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and the administration's policy on cell phones and pagers.

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