- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2001

President Bush today will announce an ambitious 105-point program to solve the nations burgeoning energy crisis, including a presidential order to strip away regulatory red tape that delays power projects.

The plan calls for new oil drilling on federal lands, new nuclear plants and $10 billion in tax incentives for Americans to save energy, according to a senior administration official.

The proposal, in which Mr. Bush warns of "the most serious energy shortage since the oil embargo of the 1970s," also recommends spending $2 billion over 10 years to pay for clean-coal technology.

"This is the first comprehensive energy policy probably ever, certainly in a long time," Mr. Bush said yesterday after a meeting with his Cabinet. "It provides over 100 proposals to diversify and increase the supply of energy, innovative proposals to encourage conservation and ways to make sure that we get energy from producer to consumer."

In a speech today in Minnesota, Mr. Bush will detail the 105 recommendations — including 35 to help increase energy supply and modernize antiquated infrastructure; 42 to increase conservation, environmental protection and use of alternative fuels; and others to address international initiatives to increase energy resources.

"A fundamental imbalance between supply and demand defines our nation´s energy crisis," says the report, the overview of which was released last night by the White House. "This imbalance, if allowed to continue, will inevitably undermine our economy, our standard of living, and our national security."

The proffered solutions to the energy crisis run the gamut of old and new solutions, from exploiting the nation´s 250-year supply of coal to capturing methane gas emitted by landfills to generate electricity.

"America must have an energy policy that plans for the future, but meets the needs of today," the president says in the 163-page National Energy Policy.

"I believe we can develop our natural resources and protect our environment."

Among the plan´s recommendations:

* Provide $4 billion in credits for purchases of "hybrid" electric-gasoline vehicles or cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

* Offer homeowners a $2,000 tax credit to install solar electricity or hot water systems.

* Open a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas exploration. The plan would earmark $1.2 billion in lease payments from the land to fund research in renewable energy sources.

* Provide $1.5 billion in tax incentives to facilitate the sale of nuclear power plants.

* Grant the federal government "eminent domain" authority to obtain right-of-way for electricity transmission lines.

* Order the Transportation Department to review fuel economy standards for vehicles to see whether they can be tightened.

Democrats are geared up to attack the plan, which they say ignores the environment for a policy that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, has said is nothing more than "drill, drill, drill."

"We´re concerned about the lack of balance in the approach that they appear to be adopting, one which is based almost exclusively on production," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.

"And we´re concerned, of course, about the fact that they appear not to find any value in short-term solutions," he said.

The president´s policy is long on recommendations and short on unilateral actions. Of the 105 items, 73 are directives to federal agencies, 20 are recommended actions for Congress and 12 can be implemented by Mr. Bush.

One key to easing energy shortages, the report says, is to upgrade the nation´s transmission lines, substations and transformers to aid in "energy swapping" between regions.

"We´ve also got to recognize our infrastructure is old and stale, and so we´ve got innovative approaches to be able to move product from one part of the country to another, or natural gas, for example, from outside our borders to inside our borders," Mr. Bush said.

The plan also calls for federal agencies to strip away bureaucratic hurdles that delay permits for energy-related projects and "make our energy markets more vulnerable to transmission bottlenecks, price spikes and supply disruptions."

The fast-track process has already worked in California, where four new power plants quickly approved and built will come on line this summer, a senior administration official said.

The report also says Mr. Bush will sign an executive order this week that directs all agencies to include in any regulatory action that could "significantly and adversely affect energy supplies" a detailed statement on the rules´ impact.

One of the most politically daring aspects of the Bush energy plan is the call for more nuclear energy. Although this source of power creates virtually no harmful emissions, it has been demonized by liberals for decades.

"This administration understands it´s an important part of our energy source," the senior Bush official said.

Also among the recommendations is opening 8 percent of Alaska´s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. That is equal to building an airport one-fifth the size of Dulles in an expanse the size of South Carolina, said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Mr. Bush will travel to Minnesota and Iowa today to announce his plan, then tour a hydroelectric power plant in Pennsylvania tomorrow.

The energy plan contains so many hot-button issues for Democrats that it is expected to become a major test of the president´s political skills. He will try to frame the plan as a solution to the nation´s energy woes, while the Democrats will try to frame it as an environmental outrage.

Democrats also complain that it would not do enough in the short term to ease soaring gasoline prices. They have argued for government price controls on soaring electricity rates in California and perhaps a reduction in the federal gasoline tax, which President Clinton raised in 1993 with the help of a tie-breaking Senate vote by Vice President Al Gore.

While Democrats have demanded a short-term solution aimed at easing gas prices for Americans mapping out summer vacations, none has acknowledged the eight-year tenure of a Democratic president who vehemently opposed oil exploration or new power plants.

The chief architect of the energy plan, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, went to Capitol Hill yesterday to brief Republican leaders, who were unanimous in their support of the proposal, which they said balances production and conservation.

"The government needs to get focused on what we can do to turn the lights back on," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican.

Majority Leader Trent Lott said the Senate will move quickly on the recommendations and hopes to have the bill completed and on the president´s desk by July 4.

The leaders said there will be some early relief for consumers, but they warned that the proposal is not a quick fix that will lower prices overnight.

"We´re not going to try and tax-credit ourselves out of this issue," House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said, referring to the House Democrat energy plan released Tuesday.

"There is no magic wand to solve the problem tomorrow."

Republicans say they inherited the energy crisis from the Clinton administration and are now trying to address it.

"Over the last eight years this problem has been ignored, so now we have a comprehensive package to try and stabilize it," said Rep. J.C. Watts, Oklahoma Republican.

"I think this was a setup for Al Gore. He wanted $3-a-gallon gasoline so he could take people´s cars away," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

Mr. Bush made clear yesterday that he has no desire to impose price controls on electricity or gasoline, as some Democrats have suggested.

"Price controls do not increase supply," he said, "nor do they affect demand."

* Audrey Hudson contributed to this article.


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