BUSH energy plans looks to long-term more than short-term fixes

Thursday, May 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush outlined an ambitious recipe Thursday for increasing the nation's supply of energy including expanded oil and gas drilling on public land and rejuvenating nuclear power.

The energy blueprint, developed by a Cabinet-level task force, cites a ``fundamental imbalance between supply and demand'' that will take time to correct.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who headed the task force, said he was optimistic that many of the some 100 recommendations will lead to a sound energy future. ``The tasks ahead are great but achievable,'' Cheney said in a letter accompanying the 163-page report.

The report proposes little to address this summer's soaring gasoline prices or Western electricity shortages. But it depicts a gloomy energy picture, including high gasoline and electricity prices across much of the country, soaring natural gas prices causing havoc with farmers and the possibility of power blackouts in the West and Northeast.

Still, the recommendations contain little that addresses immediate short-term problems American could face this summer.

It calls the country's energy shortages the worse since the 1970s oil embargoes that featured long gas lines and energy rationing. Still, today's supplies of oil and gas _ as well as electricity across most of the country _ are adequate, industry experts say.

The Bush energy report includes several proposals sure to trigger sharp debate in Congress, including drilling for oil in an Arctic wildlife refuge and possibly reviving nuclear fuel reprocessing, which was abandoned in the 1970s as a nuclear proliferation threat.

The 163-page ``action plan'' _ as White House officials have called it _ will become pivotal in the writing of energy legislation in Congress later this year.

Initial Republican reaction was positive. Democrats said while there are ``common grounds,'' the president's emphasis on production as opposed to conservation and lack of short-term measures are of serious concern.

``It is a work in progress,'' said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. He said ``the case has to be made'' for some provisions such as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said he hoped to have energy legislation up for a Senate vote this summer, but also acknowledged some of it ``will be hotly debated.''

Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe called the Bush plan a product of an administration ``filled top to bottom with people from the oil industry.''

Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who headed the task force that produced the plan, are former Texas oil industry executives. Energy companies also were heavy contributors to the former Texas governor's presidential campaign.

``George Bush's message to California from day one has been, ``Drop dead','' McAuliffe said on ABC's ``Good Morning America.''

Bush, who was kicking off a campaign to sell his energy proposals Thursday in speeches in Minnesota and Iowa, has frequently said there is no ``quick fix'' to the country's energy problems, including the power shortages in California.

``Our energy crisis has been years in the making and will take years to put fully behind us,'' the task force report declares.

It provides 105 recommendations, from reviewing all public lands to determine if they should be open to energy development to streamlining nuclear power plant and re-examining whether vehicle fuel economy requirements should be strengthened.

Twenty of the recommendations would require congressional action and 42 would ``help increase conservation, environmental protection and use of alternative fuels,'' the White House said. Another 35 recommendations are directed at increasing supplies and improving energy infrastructure.

The report includes more than $10 billion worth of tax credits over 10 years for conservation and energy development, but about half those credits either already exist or had previously been proposed in the president's budget in February. The largest credit, $4 billion, would be aimed at spurring sales of hybrid gas-electric cars, which are not expected to be widely available for several years, although a few are in showrooms.

The president's plan calls for easing regulatory barriers to building nuclear power plants, expanding oil and gas development, refinery construction and improving the nation's inadequate and sometimes precarious electricity grid.

Among the report's most controversial recommendations is to lift the ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Democrats have vowed to block any legislation freeing the refuge to development.

Another proposal to allow the federal government to take private land for power lines is expected to meet sharp opposition from property rights advocates.

The report also recommends that nuclear reprocessing be given another look as part of a package of proposals to promote commercial nuclear power and reduce the amount of reactor waste to be stored.

Reprocessing, in which plutonium is chemically salvaged from used reactor fuel to be used again in a reactor, was abandoned in the 1970s in the United States because of nuclear proliferation concerns, although it is still embraced in Japan and Europe.

Among other key recommendations in the report:

_An executive order to require federal agencies to consider the impact on energy supplies whenever issuing a regulation.

_Streamline regulatory approval for energy facilities, including power plants, hydroelectric dams, refineries and transmission lines and natural gas pipelines.

_Provide or extend tax credits for renewable energy sources such as wind turbines, organic waste energy plants, or methane landfills that produce energy as well as for purchase of solar panels.

_Expedite government approval of a pipeline to carry natural gas from Alaska's North Slope, if such a permit is requested.

_Provide $2 billion over 10 years for research into clean coal technology, to assure the future of coal as a major energy source.