- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2001

Are Californians Stupid? This Texans reply is, "Nope, not at all." California is home turf for a high-flying slice of

America´s most economically and aesthetically creative people. I dig Hollywood, admire the Skunk Works and thoroughly respect Silicon Valley.

But apparently California Gov. Gray Davis has a low opinion of his constituents´ mental acuity, or at least their historical memory. He seems to think Golden State residents were hatched yesterday, producing a demographic ripe for a political con job replete with fear-inciting sound bites and calculated flim-flam.

In ecology-conscious California, Mr. Davis has hired two acid-spewing generators of political pollution and cultural degradation, Clinton hit men Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani. Expect scorched-earth press releases and sulfuric TV squawk show performances reminiscent of the Clinton administration´s smoggiest, most dirt-bedeviled moments.

Yup, California´s energy crunch has made Mr. Davis that most desperate of creatures, a politician who has seen his poll numbers drop around his neck like a noose. Mr. Lehane and Mr. Fabiani aren´t energy experts, but addressing California´s current energy issues in a responsible fashion or rationally assessing future energy requirements isn´t their raison d´etre.

Messrs. Lehane and Fabiani are experimental political scientists and California their Frankenstein lab of blackouts and sputtering, dim bulbs.

They´re experimenting with the political pop of the "energy issue," and along with Mr. Davis hope Californians are dim bulbs. Congressional Democrats like Dick Gephardt pray the dim-bulb condition afflicts voters nationwide.

Mr. Lehane and Mr. Fabiani will also experiment with civil war, formulating a "California vs. Texas" conflict with the Bush administration as Texas-in-Washington. Ultimately, Democrats want that civil war to become "U.S. vs. Them-Texans."

With California´s power woes and rising pump prices, the Clinton Democrats believe they´ve finally snagged an issue that zings President Bush and pulls the plug on Senate and House Republicans.

However, blaming the energy crunch on the 120-day old Bush administration is pretty far-fetched.

Responsible Californians realize their legislature´s "deregulation" was a phony form of deregulation that created a homemade trap. Capping retail prices while allowing wholesale prices to reflect market costs made short-run political sense but violated economic common sense.

Other decisions, both public sector and private, exacerbated California´s mistakes. Relying on neighboring states to build power plants and provide steady power to meet California´s growing demand was arrogant and myopic. Regulatory kowtows to environmental extremists (eco-religious fundamentalists is a more apt description) may have gotten California politicians hearty salutations at Sierra Club shindigs, but blackouts demonstrate the economic and social consequence of pandering to zealots.

Ironically, California´s crunch could temporarily increase pollution, as blackout zones rely on soot-emitting diesel-powered backup generators.

To blame Mr. Bush also requires ignoring the destructive superficiality of the Clinton administration. Bill Clinton´s last-minute enviro-regs were of the same deceptive ilk as his last-minute pardons. For eight years, Mr. Clinton didn´t lower arsenic levels. Mr. Clinton only spent 25 percent of what the Carter administration spent on energy R&D. Frankly, the Clinton administration had no energy policy. Well, it didn´t have a foreign policy, either.

In contrast, the Bush administration has produced a thoughtful national approach to energy acquisition, energy planning and intelligent conservation. I used that 21st century tool of freedom, the Internet (a place empowered by many innovative Californians) and read the report of Mr. Bush´s National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG) at www.BushEnergy.com.

Check it out environmental concerns receive extensive treatment. Sure, Mr. Bush´s approach has weaknesses and debatable assumptions what document drawn in Washington doesn´t? (I have doubts about current "clean coal" technology, advocated by Mr. Bush and Sen. Robert Byrd, West Virginia Democrat.) However, unlike President Carter´s pessimistic plan, Mr. Bush´s NEPDG is technologically progressive and stoically optimistic.

Does it spur carbon fuel production? Sure, our economy runs on fossil fuels, but the report anticipates a future when it will be less dependent. You want to protect our environment? Promote clean technology, like hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles. You want polluters to pay the true costs of production? Emissions trading credits may give "clean" businesses an economic edge. Is our electric distribution grid inadequate? Yes, it´s a problem that took neglect-filled years to evolve and will take leadership to fix.

Mr. Bush´s plan involves political risk. Since it doesn´t propose quick-fixes or bailouts, it won´t stop summer blackouts in California, hence an opening for Gray Davis agitprop.

The NEPDG attempts to consider economic and environmental costs, as well as energy´s national security implications. That´s tough to do. So credit Mr. Bush for making the effort, and exhibiting a quality blacked-out in the White House for eight years: gutsy leadership.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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