Bush touts energy plan, warns of ‘darker future’ if rejected
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush braced Americans on Thursday for a summer of blackouts, layoffs, business closings and skyrocketing fuel costs and warned of ”a darker future” without his aggressive plans to drill for more oil and gas and rejuvenate nuclear power.
”If we fail to act, Americans will face more and more widespread blackouts. If we fail to act, our country will become more reliant on foreign crude oil, putting our national energy security into the hands of foreign nations,” the president said in releasing a 163-page energy task force report in St. Paul, Minn.
Seeking to dampen demand for fossil fuels and to appeal to conservation-minded citizens, Bush also offered tax incentives for people using alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power.
”If we fail to act, this great country could face a darker future,” he said.
Democrats and environmental groups raised a chorus of objections, promising a pitched battle over Bush’s regulatory and legislative initiative.
”It focuses on drilling and production at the expense of our environment and conservation,” House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., said. ”And it does nothing to help people who need relief right now.”
Even Republican lawmakers acknowledged the plan was filled with provisions that would be hard for some of their constituents to swallow. ”Everybody understands there are a lot of … problems out there,” said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
Bush, on the road in the Midwest, was hoping to build support for long-term solutions while many people are complaining about short-term energy woes.
California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, accused Bush of turning a blind eye to the state and tied the former Texas governor to the oil industry. ”We are literally in a war with energy companies, many of which reside in Texas,” Davis said.
Of the dozens of recommendations stuffed between the report’s glossy, blue covers, none offers immediate relief.
”Unfortunately,” the report says, ”there are no short-term solutions to long-term neglect.”
In the report developed by Vice President Dick Cheney, Bush seeks to increase energy supplies by easing restrictions on oil and gas development on public lands, including a wildlife refuge in Alaska. He also will order agencies to expedite permits for energy-related projects.
Bush also wants to give the federal government power to seize private property for the use of transmission lines. That ”eminent domain” initiative was greeted coolly by lawmakers, including some Republicans.
The report tables for further study some of the thorniest issues, such as fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and reusing spent nuclear reactor fuel.
”We must work to build a new harmony between our energy needs and our environmental concerns,” Bush said. ”The truth is, energy production and environmental protection are not competing priorities.”
Many Republicans are worried that they will be punished by voters in the 2002 congressional elections if Bush doesn’t act quickly to bring down fuel costs.
Some GOP lawmakers, including allies like Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., are pushing for a reduction in the 18 cents-a-gallon federal gasoline tax over Bush’s public objections.
They’re worried about voters like retiree James McCorkle, who voiced doubts about an energy plan proposed by two former oilmen, Bush and Cheney.
”He should be trying to bring down the gas price,” said the 75-year-old St. Louis resident.
”Doesn’t Bush want to give us a tax break so we can turn even more money over to the oil companies?” said salesman Hank Rogers, 37, of Chicopee, Mass.
Recognizing the political risks, Bush and his advisers cast the nation’s energy picture in the most dire terms to prepare Americans for any sacrifices they’ll face this summer and the tough, long-term solutions Bush is proposing.
The report says U.S. reliance on foreign oil is growing and shortages will only get worse without major changes: Energy supplies in 2020 will be 50 percent below demand without importing more energy, increasing efficiency or developing more domestic supplies.
To make the point, Bush punctuated five sentences with the refrain ”If we fail to act” – predicting higher energy prices, more blackouts, a dangerous reliance on imported oil and environmental damage unless his agenda is adopted.
Breaking the bad news into regions, the report argues that energy shortages this summer will hurt Americans in almost every conceivable way.
Farmers in the Midwest will pay more for fertilizer.
Landlords in Illinois will charge more for rent.
Businesses are closing in Washington state. Employees are being laid off in Arkansas. Brownouts are a threat in Connecticut.
California is mentioned repeatedly, a measure of its political importance as well as the magnitude of its electricity shortages.
The report compares today’s energy problems to the 1970s energy crisis, when fuel rationing and long lines at gasoline stations were the norm.
Former President Carter, politically damaged by the 1970s crisis, accused Bush in a Washington Post article of using scare tactics to promote drilling on federal lands and other ”environmental atrocities.”
Urging opponents to tone down their rhetoric, Bush said, ”We’ve yelled at each other enough. Now it’s time to listen to each other and to act.”
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