Bush puts focus on production in energy plan

`Darker future' sparks main call to raise supplies

`No short-term solutions'

Conservation is given short shrift in proposal, critics say

May 18, 2001|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Warning of a "darker future" if America fails to act, President Bush unveiled yesterday his long-awaited energy plan, which calls for some conservation but stresses that oil and gas supplies must be boosted, even if that means easing environmental protections.

"We must work to build a new harmony between our energy needs and our environmental concerns," Bush said in a speech here as his energy task force issued a 163-page report. "They are dual aspects of a single purpose - to live well and wisely upon the Earth."

The president called for incentives to experiment with cleaner, renewable sources of energy, such as solar and wind power, and to save energy. He proposed, for example, a tax credit for consumers who use a new generation of fuel-efficient cars, an idea supported by Al Gore in the election last year, which Bush had ridiculed.

But the reality, Bush said, is that bedrock fossil fuels remain the most reliable energy sources. That, he said, is why he proposes to relax environmental rules to make it easier for companies to drill for oil and gas, build power plants, burn coal and expand the use of nuclear power - ideas that sparked outcries from environmentalists and Democrats.

A failure to take action, Bush said, could mean a future "that is unfortunately being previewed in rising prices at the gas pumps and rolling blackouts in California."

Yet with the summer driving season near, Bush's energy plan proposes no short-term relief for Americans facing high gasoline prices or electricity rates.

"Unfortunately," the report says, "there are no short-term solutions to long-term neglect."

As Bush spoke before business leaders in St. Paul, the White House released the "National Energy Policy," with 105 recommendations - only one-fifth of which require congressional approval. With energy emerging as a leading public concern, Bush's proposals are likely to touch off a spirited debate about how to address energy shortages and rising costs for gasoline and electricity.

The same questions confronted policy-makers during the oil shocks of the 1970s and posed a serious problem for President Jimmy Carter: whether production should take priority over conservation and what role government should have in determining energy prices.

Environmental groups raised numerous objections, saying Bush's call to ease regulations and streamline the permit process for energy producers could threaten wildlife preserves, federal lands and rivers. Democrats, who see in the plan their best chance to paint Bush, a former oilman, as beholden to the energy industry, said it was tipped far too heavily toward business and was unlikely to help consumers.

"It's slick," said Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, the House Democratic leader. "It's full of pretty colored pictures. It really looks like the Exxon-Mobil annual report. And maybe that's really what it is."

Gephardt added: "It's heavily focused on production of new oil and gas. It calls for, as one of its major parts, drilling in environmentally sensitive areas in national monuments, in national parks."

As he arrived in Minnesota yesterday, Bush, whose presidential campaign was heavily backed by the energy industry, was greeted by a boisterous throng carrying placards with such messages as "Minnesota Loves Bush," "Don't Drill the Arctic" and "Power for People, not Profit."

The White House hopes to play up portions of the plan that are palatable even to Democrats and environmental advocates, while playing down its push to ease curbs on oil and gas development on public lands, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

For example, as he delivered remarks for 24 minutes, Bush stood in front of a banner with such words as "technology, efficiency, conservation, security," all visible to TV viewers.

For a quick photo opportunity before his speech, Bush visited a company in St. Paul that uses research in renewable energy sources, combining such conventional fuels as coal and natural gas with renewable biological waste to produce low-cost power. Bush then flew to Iowa, where he toured another company that researches renewable energy.

And the president led off his speech not by discussing oil or coal, but by praising efficiency and conservation. He said his plan offered incentives to manufacturers to build energy-efficient appliances. He said outdated buildings and factories should be upgraded or replaced so they consume less energy and do not pollute as much.

"Conservation does not mean doing without," Bush said. "Thanks to new technology, it can mean doing better and smarter and cheaper."

House Democrats put forth their own energy plan this week, one that relies more on conservation and also proposes some short-term steps, including price controls in the West. California's Democratic governor, Gray Davis, repeated his plea yesterday for Bush to consider some relief for Californians struggling with an electricity crisis and the prospect of more rolling blackouts.

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