- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2001

The Bush administration has begun taking important steps towards addressing the continuing energy crisis in California, which already is taking a toll on the nation's economy and the wealth, if not actual health of its citizens. Both Mr. Bush and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham addressed the crisis this week, and their remarks, displaying an open-eyed view of both the crisis and its potential solutions, are worth repeating.

Even as blackouts were rolling across California on Tuesday, Mr. Bush was meeting with his energy task force. Acknowledging the problem, Mr. Bush said that "there are no short-term fixes."

Mr. Abraham agreed, "America faces a major energy supply crisis over the next two decades," which if not met, "Will threaten our nation's economic prosperity, compromise our national security and literally alter the way we live our lives."

Mr. Abraham pointed out that "During a two-week period this past January, Californians lost an estimated $2.3 billion in wages, sales and productivity." They weren't the only ones.

According to an estimate by the National Association of Manufacturers cited by Mr. Abraham, "soaring fuel prices between 1999 and 2000 cost the U.S. economy more than $115 billion shaving a full percentage point off our Gross Domestic Product." This augers ill for the future, because as Mr. Abraham noted, "This nation's last three recessions have all been tied to rising energy prices." Moreover, rising energy costs will continue to hit citizens in their pocketbook, whether in raised fuel bills, lost earnings, layoffs, or failures in new job creation. The secretary also cited Intel CEO Craig Barrett, who recently said that he couldn't spend billions on a new manufacturing plant in California "as long as California is a Third World country."

Mr. Abraham seconded Mr. Bush about the roots of the crisis, saying "America's current energy supply crisis is not due to some inevitable neo-Malthusian depletion of resources. The United States … [is] blessed with a rich abundance of natural resources. It's political leadership that has been scarce." He said that the energy strategy of the Clinton administration was essentially, "You can't find it … you can't transport it … and even if you get it, we don't want you to use it." As a result, the secretary said that America faces many challenges including, "Rising demand … tightening supplies … an aging power infrastructure."

So what can be done? Mr. Bush said fundamentally, "We need to reduce demand and increase supply." To that end, solutions involve "good conservation … exploration for oil and gas and coal, development of energy sources that exist within our 50 states," and "good foreign policy," which involves working with suppliers everywhere.

Mr. Abraham elaborated, citing a need to "balance energy exploration and environmental protection," which could be put into good effect in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where an estimated 10.4 billion barrels of oil await use. The secretary also pointed out that ideological opposition, especially the extreme sort currently on display in California, must be overcome. New power plants desperately need to be built, and renewable sources will meet only a fraction of current, and estimated, needs. Lastly, the secretary said that price controls are only an answer if the question is, "How can we produce more scarcity."

Blackouts will continue to roll across California, but for the first time in a long time, a bright light of political will to deal with the energy crisis is burning within the White House.

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