Cheney outlines energy strategy

More power plants, fossil fuel sources are needed, he says

May 01, 2001|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - In a broad preview of the energy policy he is helping to craft, Vice President Dick Cheney warned yesterday that the rest of the country could experience California-style rolling blackouts "or worse" unless the nation adopts a new energy strategy. But he dismissed a heavy new emphasis on conservation, contending that would merely sidestep the "tough issues."

Cheney, who has been leading an energy task force that is expected to deliver recommendations to President Bush later this month, said the United States needs to drill for more oil and natural gas to slow its growing dependence on foreign supplies. He also indicated that the country should consider increasing its reliance on nuclear power for electricity, calling it "a safe, clean and very plentiful energy source."

"As a country, we have demanded more and more energy, but we have not brought on line the supplies needed to meet that demand," Cheney said at a conference of newspaper publishers in Toronto. "The situation has been years in the making. It will take years to overcome."

Cheney gave no indication that the administration would ask Americans to make sacrifices to combat the current "crisis." On the contrary, with a swipe at the "austerity" of Carter-administration policies during the gasoline shortages of the 1970s, he implied that government-imposed conservation measures were no solution at all.

"It is a good thing to conserve energy in our daily lives, and probably all of us can think of ways to do so," Cheney said. "And therein lies a temptation for policymakers - to begin telling Americans that we live too well and, to recall a '70s phrase, that we've got to do more with less."

"Already some groups are suggesting that government step in to force Americans to consume less energy, as if we could simply conserve or ration our way out of the situation we're in," he added. "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."

It was the first time Cheney has publicly elaborated on the strategy the White House is likely to begin pursuing in the next year through executive actions and legislative proposals. The White House described the speech as the start of a campaign to sell the administration's energy policy to the public.

Members of Congress have warned Bush that there is not sufficient support for his plan to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, though Cheney reiterated the administration's determination to keep pushing the idea.

As Cheney was speaking, environmental activists were protesting outside the White House, marking Bush's 100th day in office. Among the actions that have drawn the loudest outcries was Bush's decision to oppose stricter caps on power plants' emissions of carbon dioxide, a gas known to contribute to global warming.

In his prepared remarks, Cheney answered critics who say that cleaning up the nation's air, land and watersheds is incompatible with the administration's call for increased energy production.

"We will insist on protecting and enhancing the environment," Cheney said. Doing so, he added, "will require overcoming what is for some a cherished myth - that energy production and the environment must always involve competing values. We can explore for energy, we can produce energy and use it, and we can do so with a decent regard for the natural environment."

David Doniger, a policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, accused Cheney of playing up energy problems to build support for developing new sources of fossil fuels.

"If you magnify the crisis, then dismiss clean, safe, cheap alternatives, you end up with an array of fossil fuel and nuclear options," he said. "By pushing coal, pushing oil, pushing nukes, you end up with the dirtiest possible solutions."

Many environmental groups support new conservation measures to reduce the need for increased energy production, while calling for more energy to be generated from renewable sources such as solar and wind power.

Cheney offered limited support for that notion. He said that, under the administration's plan, renewable sources might make up 6 percent of the nation's supply within 20 years, up from 2 percent now.

He argued that more domestic oil production is necessary to slow the nation's increasing reliance on foreign oil. The United States gets 56 percent of its oil from foreign sources, a figure that is projected to reach 64 percent by 2020, Cheney said.

To meet expected demand for electricity in the next 20 years, Cheney said, the country would have to build "more than one new power plant per week."

On drilling in Alaska, Cheney repeated the administration's claim that it was considering tampering with an area less than one-fifth the size of Washington's Dulles International Airport, in a wildlife refuge as large as South Carolina.

"President Bush and I are Westerners," he said. "The quickest way to lose respect in my part of the country is to act harshly or selfishly toward the natural world and its inhabitants. Our energy strategy will leave no room for it."

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