Tuesday, August 19, 2003

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush yesterday said he has received assurances that the House and Senate will soon hash out their differences over an energy bill that would punish unreliable electricity providers.

“Companies transmitting energy will have to have strong reliability measures in place; otherwise, there will be a consequence for them,” Mr. Bush told reporters near his ranch here.

The president said it was “certain” that the final energy bill will contain mandatory reliability standards to guard against another blackout like the one that left 50 million people without power last week. The legislation also will seek upgrades to the nation’s aging electrical grid.

“There will be incentives in the new bill to encourage investment in energy infrastructure,” the president said.

Mr. Bush spoke by telephone Monday evening with the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate energy committees, Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana and Sen. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, about a conference to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

“Pete believes they can get this conference up and running in 20 days to deal with this very important energy bill,” he said. “Both members are very optimistic about reaching an agreement, obviously on infrastructure modernization but, as importantly, other issues related to energy.”

The president did not say whether one of those issues would be drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The president has long argued that such drilling would lessen America’s dependence on foreign oil, although the measure is opposed by environmentalists and Democrats.

“I’m very pleased with the attitude of the two members and their desire to get a bill done quickly and get it to my desk,” Mr. Bush said. “I have been calling for an energy bill for a long time, and now is the time for the Congress to move and get something done.”

The president, who introduced his energy bill more than two years ago, expressed a preference for the version passed by the House, not the Senate.

“I thought the energy bill was very comprehensive,” he said. “I particularly liked the House bill. The Senate, as you know, in order to get out of town, expedited a piece of legislation.

“The House bill is a very comprehensive bill, and I’m confident the two bodies can work out differences,” he added. “If they do what’s in the House bill, for example, and what’s in a lot of the Senate bill, we’ll get us a good bill.”

Mr. Bush also conferred with Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, who is working with Canadian officials to determine the cause of last week’s historic blackout, which crippled much of the Northeast, including New York City, and the Toronto area.

“Tomorrow, the joint inquiry with the Canadians will begin,” he said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take to find out what went wrong, but I know it’s not going to take long to get the meeting started to determine what went wrong.”

Even before the blackout, the president had been calling for passage of the energy bill as one of several stimuli to the economy. Yesterday, he refused to rule out another stimulus — the possibility of additional tax cuts in the future.

“As we stand right now, I believe the tax-relief packages we have in place are doing their job,” the president said. “But I’m a flexible person. I want to make sure that the conditions for economic growth and vitality are strong. But we’ll take a look and see.”

Speaking one day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at its highest level in 14 months, the president was cautiously optimistic about the economy.

“I’m pleased the markets have responded; I’m pleased that there’s economic vitality and growth,” he said. “But until everybody finds a job who wants one today and can’t find one is able to work, then I’m going to continue working on the economy.”

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