- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2001

LOS ANGELES Twenty minutes thats how long Gov. Gray Davis, who has accused the Bush administration of ignoring Californias energy crisis, will have to sway President Bush in a meeting today to consider imposing federal price caps on wholesale power prices.

His plea likely will fall on deaf ears.

"That´s simply not going to happen," said one senior Bush official. Both Mr. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney, who on Friday again blamed the state government of California for the energy crunch, oppose cap measures.

In his first visit to California since the presidential election, where he lost the state to former Vice President Al Gore by 54 percent to 41 percent, Mr. Bush hopes to sell his national energy policy to a vocal group of opponents. But the hue and cry has been muted of late since residents have battled rolling blackouts and sky-high gasoline prices.

A new poll released Friday shows 59 percent of Californians, many of whom have been longtime foes of nuclear energy, now believe the non-polluting energy source may be the way to solve the state's problems.

Mr. Davis´ popularity has plummeted. The Democrat, facing re-election next year and often mentioned as a presidential candidate, is viewed as having "poor job performance" by 60 percent of Californians, according to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California.

In a small gesture to California, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham yesterday announced plans to increase transmission capacity in California, which he said would be a "big step" in easing rolling power blackouts.

Abraham ordered the Western Area Power Administration an Energy Department arm responsible for marketing electricity from federal water projects in 15 Western states to wrap up planning for building extra transmission capacity.

The governor has repeatedly blamed Mr. Bush, who took office four months ago, for the energy crunch in California. He points the finger of blame far outside the state´s boundaries, primarily at Washington and Mr. Bush´s home state.

"The people that have dropped the ball are the federal government," Mr. Davis said last week. "They need to reimpose a price cap because we´re being obscenely gouged by price gougers out of Texas and the Southwest. … There´s a massive transfer of wealth going on from ordinary citizens in California to Texas."

Mr. Davis has also charged that utility companies are withholding power in order to drive up prices, a claim the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has investigated and dismissed.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney have often pointed out that California is second only to Rhode Island in conservation efforts, but the state is on the brink of an energy supply collapse.

Still, despite the state´s failure to build new power plants, Mr. Davis says California is entitled to a federal bailout approved by Mr. Bush.

"I´m going to keep asking him to do it because we´re part of America. The state, the last three years, has led American economic growth. … We´re doing everything we can out here," he said.

In the Democratic response to the president´s weekly radio address, Mr. Davis accused the president, a former oil man, of being concerned only with the petroleum magnates.

"With all due respect, I urge you to stand up to your friends in the energy business and exercise the federal government´s exclusive responsibility to ensure that energy prices are reasonable," he said.

Many analysts, however, blame the state´s deregulation scheme and failure to construct adequate electrical generating capacity. The price wholesale power providers can charge utilities is not capped, but the fee those companies can charge users is capped resulting in massive debt for providers.

The state was slow to respond to increased demand, the analysts say, even though the state is building 10 new power plants, four of which will come on line this summer.

In his national energy policy, Mr. Bush lays out 105 proposals that focus on increasing domestic supply, improving the nation´s ability to move energy between regions and increased conservation. But the policy is geared more toward long-term solutions such as decreasing America´s reliance on foreign oil than short-term relief for Californians and motorists nationwide.

Mr. Cheney, who heads the president´s energy task force and said Friday that California knew "for more than a year" about the impending energy shortage, has promoted nuclear power as essential to America´s energy needs. He said that at least some of the 65 power plants that need to be built annually to meet future electricity demand ought to be nuclear.

A poll by the Field Institute last week found many Californians now agree. Although nuclear energy produces 20 percent of the nation´s energy, California has just two nuclear plants.


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