Cheney says price caps, pressure on OPEC won’t solve energy crisis
WASHINGTON (AP) – Capping electricity prices or pressuring OPEC to cut oil prices will not solve U.S. energy problems, Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday in defending a Bush administration energy plan that stresses production over conservation.
While Democrats want immediate relief for California’s power crisis, there were few encouraging words from Cheney, who led a task force that developed the Bush plan.
”They got into trouble in California over a period of years, and it’s going to take two or three years to get out of it,” Cheney told CBS’ ”Face the Nation.” ”There are going to be blackouts this summer.”
For the short term, the administration has approved California Gov. Gray Davis’ requests to expedite permits for new power plants and has ordered federal offices in the state to reduce energy consumption this summer by 10 percent.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she was appalled that President Bush is not considering price caps or investigating companies that she said are charging exorbitant prices for electricity. She noted that both Cheney and Bush are former oil company executives.
”It’s really rather stunning because those of us who are living through this have suggested many things,” Boxer told CBS. ”So the vice president sits very coolly, and I admire his cool, but he really sounds like an oil man, not a vice president charged with helping the people.”
If dairy farmers sought as much profit as oil companies – in some cases, 1,600 percent – a gallon of milk would cost $190, she said.
Cheney said the answer to long-term price stability lies in building more oil refineries in the United States and in reviewing a system whereby different states require different blends of fuel – some mixed with the corn additive ethanol, for example – to meet clean air standards.
Capping prices would not increase the supply of energy or reduce demand, Cheney said.
”We get politicians who want to go out and blame somebody and allege there is some kind of conspiracy, whether it’s the oil companies or whoever it might be, instead of dealing with the real issues,” Cheney told NBC’s ”Meet the Press.”
He criticized Davis for what he called a ”harebrained scheme” to use the state’s budget surplus to buy power.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Congress should look into at least temporarily suspending the federal gas tax, which is 18.4 cents per gallon.
Cheney, however, said that would pose problems for the nation’s highway trust fund, which relies on that tax to build and maintain the country’s transportation infrastructure.
Describing himself as a ”pretty good environmentalist,” Cheney also responded to criticism from some environmental groups that he did not meet with them before issuing the energy plan, because he is beholden to energy producers who gave millions of dollars to the Bush campaign.
”I couldn’t begin to sit down with all of those various groups. I didn’t have time,” he said.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman, appearing on three Sunday talk shows, said the administration is doing everything within its power to help California, ”while still protecting the public health” from toxic emissions under the Clean Air Act.
”I’d certainly support looking at whatever we can do to try to help relieve the problems that Californians are facing without endangering the public health and without going against the law,” she told ”Fox News Sunday.”
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, also on Fox, said price caps would only hurt California in the long run.
”There are peak problems right now because California hasn’t brought any new supply into place in 10 years, no new facilities, and so they’ve got an imbalance, but the way to solve it isn’t price caps. That’ll only make matters worse.”
He also said instability in the Middle East should motivate the United States to increase domestic production, including exploring for fuel in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
”We’re not going to beg” the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to release their oil, Abraham told Fox and CNN’s ”Late Edition.”
Cheney said he has spoken with Saudi leaders but has sought price stability, rather than lower prices, which, he said, would only shoot up again.
Sen. John Breaux, D-La., called OPEC’s tactics ”totally unacceptable” but said there is little the Bush administration can do because the United States is so dependent on the Middle East for oil.
”We’ve been gouged as a policy, I’ve discovered, by years of OPEC fixing prices in the Middle East,” Breaux said. ”If they did that in this country, they’d go to the penitentiary.”
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