BUSH warns against complacency as Cheney promotes energy plan

Tuesday, July 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ President Bush warned against complacency in the face of falling gas prices Monday, as a hoarse Vice President Dick Cheney headlined a Republican roadshow promoting the national energy strategy he shaped.

``I think anytime there's not an immediate problem that's apparent to people, it's tough to convince people to think long-term,'' Bush told reporters in the Oval Office as he plugged the energy plan. ``But it's clear there are warning signs'' of a crisis, he said.

Cheney, suffering laryngitis, drafted his wife, Lynne, to deliver an energy speech to the National Association of Counties in Philadelphia. He kissed her and watched from stage right after she playfully shooed him away from the microphone, saying, ``Dick, they did give you a chair.''

Mrs. Cheney defended the administration's energy policy, with a heavy emphasis on environmental protection, conservation and high-tech energy solutions.

``President Bush and the vice president do not accept the false choice between more energy and a safer environment,'' she said.

Her husband just weeks ago said conservation, though a ``personal virtue,'' was not the basis of a sound energy policy. Mrs. Cheney declared, ``We must become much more efficient in energy use.''

She also made clear that the administration is not rethinking its rejection of a global-warming treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol. Bush's scrapping of the treaty is one of the greatest points of friction between the United States and European countries. Bush travels to Europe Wednesday.

The Kyoto treaty ``would have produced little or no net benefit to the global environment, while imposing massive job losses on the American economy,'' she said.

The Bush administration unveiled its energy strategy in May, but is still trying to spur action in the Senate, which has since turned over to Democratic control and is unlikely to address energy legislation before September. Several energy bills are advancing in the House with two committees expected to move legislation this week.

One bill promotes clean coal technology, calls for a modest increase in fuel economy for sport-utility vehicles and requires new energy savings by federal agencies. Another bill would allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, which Bush has advocated.

The various energy bills are expected to be combined into one bill in the coming weeks with a vote possible before the August recess, according to GOP lawmakers. A floor fight over the Arctic refuge drilling and fuel-economy provisions is likely.

Mrs. Cheney sounded optimistic when she said, ``This very week, Congress will be putting the final touches on legislation enacting the president's recommendations on conservation.''

The vice president was chief architect of the administration plan, which calls for increased production of oil and natural gas; upgrading the networks that carry petroleum products and electricity; increased reliance on nuclear power; and stepped-up conservation and use of such clean fuels as wind and solar power.

The tour by Cheney, five Cabinet members and some 25 members of Congress was meant to take the administration's case directly to voters.

Most of the officials, including Cheney, employed town hall forums where they faced questions from the public.

At the Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the United States will continue to rely on the Middle East for oil, but also on ``new sources at home and around the world, so that we don't find ourselves in an energy supply challenge in the future.''

After the Philadelphia appearance, Cheney flew to the Pittsburgh suburb of Monroeville for his town hall meeting.

Republican Gov. Tom Ridge, a Bush ally, selected the 250 audience members, though Ridge spokesman Tom Charles said the crowd represented a wide array of views, including at least two environmentalists.

Cheney's office hand-picked the first questioner _ the head of a local Chamber of Commerce, who asked what the administration and business leaders could do ``as a team'' to bring down gasoline prices.

Cheney offered a prescription that included reducing foreign dependence on oil and building more refineries. But, he said, ``There's not any one silver bullet there.''

Cheney nursed his throat with hot tea all day, and his voice held out as he fielded nine questions over a half-hour.

Outside the Community College of Allegheny County, about 70 demonstrators chanted, ``Clean solutions, not pollution!'' in protest against the administration plan.

``Nuclear power is not safe, not clean, not reliable, not cheap and not sustainable,'' said Judith Johnsrud, vice chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Sierra Club. ``We don't want any more Three Mile Islands in Pennsylvania.''

Cheney told reporters aboard Air Force Two that a weekend cold had given him laryngitis. ``Suddenly, the voice was gone,'' he said in a near-whisper.

The vice president has a history of heart disease and had a dual-action pacemaker implanted about two weeks ago. Asked about the general state of his health, he playfully hopped up and down in the aisle of his plane, prompting an order from his wife to ``stop it!''