- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 2, 2001

Many of us are accustomed to hearing a radio weather forecast in the morning. But here in California, officials announced last week, those forecasts soon will include something new: blackout predictions.
State officials say they will use terms familiar to weather buffs. Power grid managers will issue either a "power watch" or, when blackouts are imminent, a "power warning." Im trying to envision how thats going to sound on the morning radio: "Today well have partly cloudy skies, a high of 83 degrees and power warnings from Pasadena to Paradise Valley." That sure will deflate the usual happy tone of morning radio.
Seriously, the new blackout forecasts underscore the very real problems caused by Californias energy crisis. After last winters no-notice blackouts, people here demanded forecasts so businesses could plan shutdowns and others who depend on steady electric supplies such as frail people dependent on oxygen pumps and other electric medical devices could make emergency plans.
Certainly blackout forecasts seem a bizarre point to which California should fall, but the forecasts seem to be a level-headed approach to deal with an undeniably bad situation.
The energy policy initiative announced by President Bush seems similarly straightforward. The political temptation would be to promise a quick-fix to exploit the situation for political gain. Mr. Bush chose the more difficult course.
He offers instead a balance of long-term expansion of energy supplies the basic problem, after all, is a failure of energy supplies to keep pace with demand and shorter-term conservation measures, but all with an appropriate sense of urgency.
California got into its power crisis as a result of the mother of all regulatory missteps: It enacted a botched energy "deregulation" plan that lifted price controls on wholesale power but kept controls on retail power, and to top things off forced utilities to purchase most of their electricity on volatile spot markets. The results are blackouts and bankrupted utilities.
President Bushs energy report candidly acknowledges some of the federal governments own regulatory errors. Among them: Regulatory red tape that has prevented construction of a single U.S. oil refinery since the 1970s and slowed power plant construction to a crawl. Oil and gas exploration also have slowed, and vast resources, such as those in the Arctic region of Alaska, have gone untapped while we buy imported oil from the likes of Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Bush suggests, for starters, that government simply get out of the way and, without giving anyone a blank check to pillage the environment, put power plant, refinery and oil and gas exploration permits on a fast track. He also suggests taking a second look at nuclear power, which supplies about one-fifth of the nations electricity.
Conservation also is part of his plan, as it must be. In the short term, conservation measures could make the difference between "power watches" and "power warnings." Not all conservation measures need be regulated. Simple things that we ought to do anyway just to be good energy stewards can make a big difference, such as nudging thermostats a couple of degrees, turning out lights when they arent needed and switching incandescent light bulbs for new fluorescent bulbs.
As summer approaches, some no doubt will be tempted to exploit energy shortages for political gain. When, inevitably, frail people perish in summer heat for lack of air conditioning, somebody will blame Mr. Bush and the GOP. Gov. Gray Davis needs to focus on helping Californians practically, rather than playing a blame game. He could start by giving a break a tax break to hard-pressed Californians.
Our energy problems are the result of long-term neglect of the need to develop new energy supplies. Getting out of this mess will take time and patience, two commodities in short supply in politics. Mr. Bush is taking a big political risk by choosing not to pander to demands for immediate, large-scale government intervention that might deliver short-term relief at the expense of long-term solutions. But his is the better course for the country.

Art Linkletter, veteran of TV, is national spokesman for United Seniors Association and a nationally syndicated columnist.


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