- The Washington Times - Friday, May 4, 2001

President Bush, saying he is "deeply concerned" about Californians facing rolling blackouts this summer, yesterday ordered federal facilities in power-strapped areas of the West and Northeast to cut power use and prepare for emergencies.

"This is a serious situation in the state of California," said Mr. Bush, noting that the state is predicting power shortages that will result in up to 35 days of rolling blackouts during the hottest months of the year. Power outages also are likely in areas around New York City this summer.

"We want to be a part of any solutions" and "make sure the citizenry doesn't get harmed in any way," Mr. Bush said after meeting at the White House with Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and other Cabinet officials to discuss the energy situation.

The president's order responds to criticism that the administration is not promoting conservation enough and has been reluctant to help out the heavily Democratic state. Gov. Gray Davis and other political leaders regularly blame inaction by the Bush administration for their mounting problems.

Mr. Davis and other California Democrats criticized the administration for ordering only a 10 percent cut in federal power use, rather than the 20 percent savings mandated at state facilities.

The White House move also comes as national Democratic leaders appear to be declaring all-out war against Mr. Bush's energy and environmental policies a confrontation that prompted Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, this week to question whether major legislation to address the energy crunch will get through Congress this year.

A statement from the Democratic National Committee yesterday charged that oil and gas executives have been writing the White House's energy policies in secret as a payoff for some $3 million in campaign contributions. It attacked as anti-environment and pro-industry proposals to drill just about anywhere in the United States.

"The Bush energy policy … is long on oil and short on conservation," said the Democratic missive. It suggested that the administration's motto is: "Drill anywhere, anytime, and keep those checks coming."

As the White House prepares to release its energy plan later this month, Mr. Bush said yesterday he is trying to strike a "balance" between developing energy supplies and protecting the environment. He accused his critics of spreading the "naive" belief that the country can address today's serious energy shortages through conservation alone.

"Conservation has got to be an integral part," he said, "but what people need to hear loud and clear is that we're running out of energy in America… . This nation is confronted with a major problem… . And it's going to take a lot of political will for people to buck" the wishful thinking of opponents.

"We can't conserve our way to energy independence, nor can we conserve our way to having enough energy available."

The conservation measures announced by the White House are aimed at forcing the greatest cuts in electricity use in California and areas of the Northeast. But Mr. Bush said he is instructing agencies everywhere, including the White House, to find ways to curb wasteful uses of energy.

The federal government represents about 2 percent of California's power use.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said his department is California's biggest energy user. He estimated it can reduce its peak load power use by 10 percent this summer and even more next year.

He said the department also would make available to the state any excess generating capacity at defense installations in coming months.

All federal agencies in the power-short areas would be required to implement measures like turning out lights, closing off unused spaces, turning off escalators and raising thermostats to 78 degrees to conserve energy. Agencies in other areas also would be encouraged to do so.

Mr. Abraham said California agencies will report back to him in 30 days on the measures they are taking. Meanwhile, in the next few days he will confer with Mr. Davis and other California leaders on how the federal government can help promote conservation and increase power generation.

Mr. Abraham said he has met with California's energy suppliers and urged them to help avoid disruptions this summer.

House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt applauded Mr. Bush's action, saying it was "the right thing to do."

But he signaled that Democrats will continue to blame the White House for sharply increasing energy prices in the state because Mr. Bush has refused to impose caps on soaring wholesale power prices.

"What he ought to be doing is encouraging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission … to hold down these outrageous price increases," the Missouri Democrat said at a press briefing.

"I talked to someone the other day from California who said their residential energy bill used to be $250, $300 a month, now it's $1,250 a month," he said. "People will not be able to stand these price increases. The federal government is standing by and looking the other way as people in the West are being savaged by unreasonable price increases."

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat and author of a Democratic energy plan that proposes a mix of federal measures to force conservation and increase production, said the Bush action is "a move in the right direction, but a very small move."

Sen. Craig Thomas, Wyoming Republican, agreed with Mr. Bush that "conservation is not sufficient… . We need to have more domestic production, along with conservation."


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