Cheney pushes for oil, gas, nuclear development
TORONTO (AP) – Vice President Dick Cheney warned on Monday that the whole nation could face California-style blackouts as he outlined a national energy strategy relying heavily on oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power development – but not conservation.
”The aim here is efficiency, not austerity,” Cheney told editors and publishers at The Associated Press annual meeting. The nation cannot ”simply conserve or ration our way out of the situation we’re in.”
It was his first trip outside Washington for official vice presidential business, made possible, he joked, when President Bush invited the Senate to lunch – ”the best way to ensure no tie votes while I was out of town.” Bush invited all members of Congress to the White House to mark the first 100 days of his administration.
Cheney addressed concerns about his history of four heart attacks by jokingly offering to do jumping jacks. More seriously, he said, ”If I ever get to the point where my doctors believe that it’s not wise or prudent for me to continue in this capacity, obviously I’d step aside.”
In his first extensive remarks about the energy recommendations his Cabinet-level task force will make to Bush by the end of May, Cheney blamed current shortages on shortsighted decisions in the past. He said that conservation, while perhaps ”a sign of personal virtue,” does not make for sound or comprehensive policy.
Saving the specifics – and the price tags – for his boss to review and then announce, Cheney promised ”a mix of new legislation, some executive action as well as private initiatives” to cope with rising energy prices and growing demand.
He said anew that the administration intends to push for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge despite strong congressional opposition.
He definitively rejected turning to price controls, tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve or creating new bureaucracies.
Over the next two decades, it will take between 1,300 and 1,900 new power plants – or one every week for 20 years – just to meet projected increases in nationwide demand, Cheney said.
Energy shortages in California already have forced rolling blackouts. And he said, ”Without a clear, coherent energy strategy for the nation, all Americans could one day go through what Californians are experiencing now, or even worse.”
The vice president, who made millions of dollars as an oil services’ company executive, made no bones about placing oil, coal and other fossil fuels at the center his recommendations.
Alternative fuels are still ”years down the road,” he said.
The Bush administration wants to open the Arctic refuge in Alaska to oil drilling, a controversial plan that could be executed, Cheney said, with very little disruption to the refuge’s 19 million acres of natural habitat: ”The amount of land affected by oil production would be 2,000 acres, less than one-fifth the size of (the Washington area’s) Dulles Airport.”
Along with additional exploration must come new refineries, Cheney said, noting that it has been 20 years since a large oil refinery was built in the United States.
He also suggested federal initiatives to boost the use of hydroelectric dams and the construction of new nuclear power plants. He called nuclear power ”a safe, clean, very plentiful energy source.”
Although one-fifth of the nation’s electricity is nuclear-generated, the industry has not sought a government permit to build a new plant in more than 20 years, since before the accident at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island.
In developing hydroelectric power, Cheney said the Bush administration, whose environmental record has been sharply questioned by activists, would be ”mindful of the fish and wildlife affected by manmade dams.”
He put in a good word for coal, which he said remains the most available, most affordable way to generate electric power. The Bush administration has budgeted an additional $150 million for next year – up from $82 million this year – to support development of cleaner coal technologies.
On natural gas, Cheney called for some 38,000 miles of additional pipeline and thousands of miles of added distribution lines to bring natural gas into homes and businesses. He did not mention expanded exploration off the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Acting on a campaign proposal, the president is committed to extending offshore oil and gas drilling to the eastern Gulf of Mexico in a tract that, in some areas, comes within 30 miles of the western tip of the Florida Panhandle.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is expected to seek re-election amid widespread local opposition to the drilling, has petitioned the administration to cancel an auction of new drilling leases.
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