ST. PAUL, Minn. — President Bush yesterday said the nation faces a “darker future” if it continues to perceive energy production and environmental protection as mutually exclusive goals.
In a highly anticipated speech, the president outlined his national energy policy, stressing production, conservation and delivery of power.
“If we fail to act, we could face a darker future: a future that is unfortunately being previewed in rising prices at the gas pump and rolling blackouts in California,” Mr. Bush said to about 1,500 people gathered in the RiverCentre complex.
The 105-point blueprint includes two executive orders expected to be signed by the president today. One will strip away bureaucratic red tape that delays power projects; the other will order all federal agencies to include in any regulatory action a detailed statement on the energy impact of the proposed action.
Mr. Bush, clearly aware that his plan will draw fire from liberals and environmentalists, said in St. Paul:
“Too often people are asked to take sides between energy production and environmental protection, as if people who revere the Alaskan wilderness do not also care about Americas energy future; as if the people who produce Americas energy do not care about the planet their children will inherit,” he said.
As he has in Washington, the president called for a new civility in discussing the problem, one that is “less suspicious, less punitive, less rancorous. Weve yelled at each other enough. Now it is time to listen to each other and to act,” Mr. Bush said to applause.
Nonetheless, critics of the report said it proposes little to address this summers soaring gasoline prices or Western electricity shortages. Besides, it tilts heavily toward expanding the production and use of coal, gas, and nuclear energy, they said.
House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri said, “The presidents plan makes the wrong choices for America.” He called the Bush report a “slick” document that “only gives lip service to conservation” without providing the budget “to accomplish anything.”
Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe called the Bush plan a product of an administration “filled top to bottom with people from the oil industry.”
The plan received more pointed criticism from Gov. Gray Davis of California, who implied the president was favoring his home-state oil interests.
“We are literally in a war with energy companies, many of which reside in Texas,” Mr. Davis said. “Californians want to know if he is going to be on their side.”
The Democrat told the Associated Press that Mr. Bushs pledges offer no short-term relief from Californias rolling blackouts and soaring electricity bills.
“His long-term approach is basically on track, but for those of us who are in immediate peril, it offers no relief,” Mr. Davis said. The administration is “turning a blind eye to the bleeding and hemorrhaging that exists in this state.”
Initial Republican reaction was positive.
“It is a work in progress,” said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. He said “the case has to be made” for some provisions such as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said he hoped to have energy legislation up for a Senate vote this summer, but he acknowledged some of it will be “hotly debated.”
The White House released a 163-page blueprint compiled by the National Energy Policy Development Group, headed by Vice President Richard B. Cheney, a former oil man. The report is a stark assessment of the nations problems. It states that America “faces the most serious energy shortage since the oil embargoes of the 1970s.”
The plan focuses on increasing supply and calls for exploration in Alaskas Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which may hold as much as 16 billion barrels of oil, enough to produce 600,000 barrels a day for the next 47 years.
“What difference will 600,000 barrels make? That happens to be exactly the amount we import from Saddam Husseins Iraq,” Mr. Bush said yesterday.
Americas dependence on oil from overseas threatens national security, the president said.
“Overdependence on any one energy source, especially a foreign source, leaves us vulnerable to price shocks, supply interruptions, and — in the worst case — blackmail.
“America today imports 52 percent of our oil. If we dont take action, those imports will only grow. As long as cars and trucks run on gasoline, we will need oil and we should produce more of it at home,” Mr. Bush said to applause.
But the president, who toured an innovative power plant in St. Paul that burns coal, natural gas, oil and wood and captures produced steam to turn into more electricity, said production of energy is not the sole solution.
“As with conservation, new energy supply is not the whole answer,” he said. Refining capacity, now running at 96 percent, must be increased and the infrastructure to deliver energy across the country is sadly outdated.
“Today our electrical system is almost as bumpy as our highways were 80 years ago,” Mr. Bush said. “We have chopped our country into dozens of local electricity markets which are haphazardly connected to one another.”
The president pointed out the countrys success in building an interstate highway system and nationwide phone network and called for an “interstate electrical grid.”
The 105 recommendations include 35 to help increase energy supply and modernize antiquated infrastructure; 42 to increase conservation, environmental protection and use of alternative fuels; and 25 to address international initiatives to increase energy resources.
Theres also a recommendation to provide $4 billion in credits for purchases of “hybrid” electric-gasoline vehicles or cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells and another to offer homeowners a $2,000 tax credit to install solar electricity or hot-water systems. The plan directs the Transportation Department to review fuel economy standards for vehicles to see whether they can be tightened.
Also the proposal would provide $1.5 billion in tax incentives to facilitate the sale of nuclear power plants and grant the federal government “eminent domain” authority to obtain rights of way for electricity transmission lines.
But the plan is a work in progress. Of the 105 items, 73 are directives to federal agencies, 20 are recommended actions for Congress and only 12 can be implemented by Mr. Bush.
Several proposals included in the energy report, such as the Alaskan oil drilling and nuclear energy incentives, are expected to set off a firestorm on Capitol Hill.
The Bush administration got its first taste of the fight it faces as 200 protesters held a rally outside the speech site.
While Mr. Bush delivered a matter-of-fact speech off a cuing device to announce his energy plan in Minnesota, he made an impassioned case for it later in the day at a high-tech research facility in Nevada, Iowa.
“This is an energy plan that says to America, ‘Lets work together to get after this problem. Lets work together to bring common-sense solutions. And lets think about how best to deploy and employ our resources here in America, starting with whats happening here,” he said, his voice rising as he leaned into the podium.
* This article is based in part on wire service reports.