- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Vice President Richard B. Cheney went on the offensive against the administrations environmental critics yesterday, saying they blame Americans for using too much energy and want to force people to conserve fuel.
In a speech before a meeting of the Associated Press in Toronto, Mr. Cheney said America will remain overwhelmingly dependent on oil, gas and coal to generate electricity and gasoline for the next 20 years. The nation must be realistic and develop those resources if it hopes to ease high energy prices and prevent more rolling blackouts like the ones in California.
"Some groups are suggesting that government step in to force Americans to consume less energy, as if we could simply conserve or ration our way out," he said, recalling the "do more with less" refrain of government leaders during the 1970s, when energy prices soared.
"To speak exclusively of conservation is to duck the tough issues" — how to meet a projected 43 percent increase in electricity needs and a stunning two-thirds increase in natural gas demand in the next 20 years fueled in part by the "new economy," he said.
"The present crisis does not represent a failing of the American people," he said, but rather is "the result of shortsighted domestic policies — or, as in recent years, no policy at all."
Even as he spoke, wholesale gasoline prices reached a new high of $1.163 per gallon on the New York Mercantile Exchange due to the shutdown of refineries in Illinois, California and Britain. Retail gasoline prices, meanwhile, reached a 10-month high of $1.626 a gallon, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Mr. Cheney, who heads up the White Houses task force on energy policy, pointed out that gasoline price spikes that have troubled Americans in the past year have been largely due to a lack of refining capacity in the United States. No refineries have been built in decades.
The shutdown caused by a fire at the Tosco Corp. refinery at Wood River, Ill., is expected to last a week or two. It already has sent pump prices for some gasoline blends over $2 a gallon in Chicago.
Yesterday, the online edition of Crains Chicago Business said that prices there could hit $3 a gallon this summer. Chicago-area businesses and consumers already have been racked by $1.2 billion in damage from last years fuel spike.
Mr. Cheney said higher fuel prices in 1999 cost the American economy about $100 billion.
While he threw down the gauntlet for what is expected to be a battle with environmentalists over the White House energy plan due out later this month, the vice president also pledged to be a "good steward" of the nations natural resources by developing energy in the most environmentally sensitive ways.
He said he would not recommend drilling for oil and gas in the pristine Alaska National Wildlife Refuge if the nation had to use older technologies that despoil the environment.
New technologies permit exploration in a way that affects only a tiny portion of the 19 million-acre reserve, he said.
"We can explore for energy, we can produce energy and use it, and we can do so with a decent regard for the natural environment," he said.
Mr. Cheney also for the first time announced the White Houses hope to triple the use of renewable fuels favored by environmentalists — solar, biomass and wind power — from filling 2 percent of energy needs today to 6 percent within 20 years.
The increased use of those technologies will come through breakthroughs in research and development, he said.
He also said the White House will "encourage in every way possible" energy-saving technologies in cars, computers and other devices as part of its plan.
"Years down the road, alternative fuels may become a great deal more plentiful," he said, "but we are not yet in any position to stake our economy and our own way of life on that possibility."
The nation already has "mastered one form of technology that causes zero emissions of greenhouse gases, and that is nuclear power," the vice president noted. Nuclear power fulfills one-fifth of the nations electricity needs today, yet the government hasnt licensed a new nuclear plant in more than 20 years.
"If were serious about environmental protection, then we must seriously question the wisdom of backing away from what is, as a matter of record, a safe, clean and very plentiful energy source," he said.

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