- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2001

President Bush yesterday said that if Congress does not open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to energy exploration, the United States will be forced to rely even more heavily on foreign sources for oil and natural gas.
"There's gas in our hemisphere, and the fundamental question is: 'Where's it going to come from?' " Mr. Bush said in a 50-minute, hastily called press conference at the White House.
"I'd like it to be American gas," the president said, but he sounded resigned to looking elsewhere.
"It doesn't matter to me where the gas comes from, in the long run, just so long as we get gas moving into the country, so long as we increase supply of natural gas," he said.
Mr. Bush's proposal to solve the country's energy situation, which he again called a "crisis," came in a wide-ranging press conference in which he:
Expressed pleasure that the House on Wednesday "passed a realistic, commonsense budget to the Senate" namely, his budget outline.
Called on Israelis and the Palestinians to end the "escalating violence," but said "this nation will not try to force a peace settlement in the Middle East. It requires two willing parties to come to the table to enact a peace treaty that will last."
Said he supports "efforts on the Hill to provide immediate tax relief," but said that it must be coupled with "long-term relief as well."
Dismissed reports that he and former rival Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who he soundly defeated in the Republican Party presidential primaries, personally dislike each other. "This is Washington, D.C., gossip… . I respect John McCain. I like him a lot."
Vowed to sign a bill reforming campaign finance laws "if it improves the system."
During his presidential campaign, Mr. Bush repeatedly called for exploration of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which holds as much as 16 billion barrels of oil larger than the 10-billion-barrel reserve in nearby Prudhoe Bay.
But congressional Republican leaders this week omitted from their pending 2002 budget resolutions any revenues from drilling in ANWR in an apparent attempt to avoid a losing battle. Drilling in the reserve is strongly opposed by environmentalists, Democrats and some Republicans concerned about keeping the reserve free from oil exploration.
Mr. Bush said he still believes opening the refuge to exploration is key to freeing America from dependence on foreign oil. In lieu of that, though, America must seek oil and natural gas from Canada, Mexico and unprotected U.S. federal lands.
"I think it's important for us to open up ANWR… . Whether or not the Congress sees it that way is another matter. That's not going to deter me from having, for example, the interior secretary look at all lands, that are not to be fully protected, for exploration."
"If the Congress decides not to have exploration in ANWR, we'll work with the Canadians," he said.
Mr. Bush said he had talked to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien about importing Canadian natural gas and exploring the Northwest Territories, which neighbors ANWR.
"We've got to plan to make sure that gas … flows freely out of Canada into the United States. There's a big, vast region of natural gas, and it's important for us to explore and encourage exploration and work with the Canadians to get pipelines coming out of the Northwest Territories to the United States," he said.
Mr. Bush also said he had spoken to Mexican President Vicente Fox about supplying the United States with energy.
Plans to drill in ANWR would call for using just 2,000 acres of the 19 million acre refuge equal to putting a Dulles International Airport in a tract of land as large as South Carolina.
But a House Republican leadership source said yesterday that Mr. Bush would have difficulty getting the House to approve oil exploration there.
"It's definitely an uphill pull," the source said. "Environmental votes are always tough in the House."
And a Senate Republican leadership aide conceded yesterday that Republican lawmakers do not know if they have enough votes in the Senate to approve drilling in ANWR.
But the Senate aide added, "We're going to work as hard as we can to get the votes to make sure we can explore ANWR for its natural resources. If Senator [John] Kerry [Massachusetts Democrat] and other Democrats believe we can rely on wind power, they're mistaken."
The Senate last year voted 51-49 in favor of drilling in ANWR as part of a broad budget resolution. But a change in the Senate makeup now split 50-50 since then has dimmed prospects of the project.
Still, White House spokesman Claire Buchan said Mr. Bush had not conceded congressional defeat on the ANWR plan. "He hopes they're going to pass it."
Much of the United States' untapped reserves of oil and natural gas lie offshore, off the coasts of California and Florida, but Congress has imposed a moratorium on drilling in those areas.
Without tapping new energy sources, the nation faces a grim future.
Mr. Bush said that the United States needs to wage an all-out assault on "an energy crisis that is real in California and looms for other parts of our country, if we don't move quickly."
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said earlier this month that the nation imports 57 percent of its oil today, up from 36 percent in 1973, when Americans suffered through an oil crisis.
"By 2020, under current projections, we'll only produce approximately half of what we produced in 1970," he said. Demand for oil will grow by one-third and projections show the United States will import 64 percent of its oil.
Mr. Bush said the nation's energy shortage is hurting every aspect of the economy and putting a severe burden on Americans.
"We are now in an energy crisis. We have an energy shortage… . When you couple high energy prices with consumer debt, a lot of folks are in a squeeze," he said.
The crisis has prompted the president to move to protect Americans and businesses from policies that would be too costly, including flip-flopping on an earlier campaign promise to force the nation's power plants to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The president said he backed away from limiting emission levels because that would add to the energy crisis and damage the faltering economy.
"We will not do anything that harms our economy, because first things first, are the people who live in America. That's my priority. And I'm worried about the economy, I'm worried about the lack of an energy policy, I'm worried about rolling blackouts in California."
"It's in our national interests that we develop a strong energy policy with realistic common-sense environmental policy," he said.
Mr. Bush was relaxed and self-deprecating during his second full-blown press conference, which he again chose to conduct in the cramped White House briefing room.
At one point, Mr. Bush said Americans should not "misunderestimate" his tax plan. As reporters tittered, he corrected himself with a laugh and said, "Just making sure you were paying attention."
He also granted a presidential pardon for an offending reporter whose beeper went off during the conference strictly forbidden during Bush events.
"Don't worry about the beeper violation," said the president, who has sought to change the partisan tone in Washington. "It's a new approach."
Dave Boyer contributed to this article.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide