May 1, 2001

Cheney Promotes Increasing Supply as Energy Policy




Vice President Dick Cheney said on Monday in Toronto that the administration's energy policy would support more nuclear plants.

ASHINGTON, April 30 — Vice President Dick Cheney said today that oil, coal and natural gas would remain the United States' primary energy resources for "years down the road" and that the Bush administration's energy strategy would aim mainly to increase supply of fossil fuels, rather than limit demand.

In his most comprehensive comments to date on the energy task force he is heading on behalf of President Bush, Mr. Cheney dismissed as 1970's-era thinking the notion that "we could simply conserve or ration our way out" of what he called an energy crisis.

The only solution, he said, is a government-backed push to find new domestic sources of oil and gas, including in protected areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and an all-out drive to build power plants — a need that he says will require one new electricity-generating plant a week for 20 years.

"America's reliance on energy, and fossil fuels in particular, has lately taken on an urgency not felt since the late 1970's," Mr. Cheney said. "Without a clear, coherent energy strategy, all Americans could one day go through what Californians are experiencing now, or worse."

Mr. Cheney, who ran the oil-services company Halliburton Inc. before becoming vice president, offered a supply-oriented energy philosophy that seems likely to dominate the report the cabinet-level task force is expected to issue as early as mid- May. The report is expected to recommend legislation, executive actions and incentives for the private sector.

The vice president's comments, delivered to the annual meeting of The Associated Press in Toronto, seemed partly a combative response to Democrats and environmentalists who argue that the Bush administration has used California's electricity shortages as a pretext to enact energy policies that have been favored by industry executives for many years.

In discussing their energy plans recently, administration officials have put the most emphasis on opening protected lands to oil and gas exploration, while rolling back environmental rules that inhibit the burning of coal and the construction of pipelines and refineries. They have also strongly advocated the use of nuclear power.

Critics have faulted the administration for moving quickly to abandon a treaty on global warming and rejecting controls on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, steps Mr. Bush said were vital because of energy shortages. The administration has also come under withering criticism for delaying stricter standards on arsenic in drinking water.

Mr. Cheney said today that environmentalists had taken things too far. He said a recent television advertisement showing a child asking for more arsenic in her water was a "cheap shot."

Drastic measures to increase energy supplies are justified, he said, because the geometry of supply and demand curves are so alarming. He estimated that the country needed 38,000 miles of new pipelines to carry natural gas, covering the distance of Maine to California more than 12 times over.

Coal, Mr. Cheney said, has been neglected. It is the United States' "most plentiful source of affordable energy." He said people who sought to phase out its use, largely because they considered it a major source of air pollution, "deny reality."

He said the most environmentally friendly way to increase energy supplies was to extend the life of existing nuclear plants and grant permits to build new ones, because they had no emissions of greenhouse gases.

"We can safeguard the environment by making greater use of the cleanest methods of power generation we know," he said, speaking of nuclear power. "If we are serious about environmental protection, then we must seriously question the wisdom of backing away from what is, as a matter of record, a safe, clean and very plentiful energy source."

Utility industry executives have applauded the administration's support of nuclear power, but questioned the economic viability of building new nuclear power plants anytime soon. Environmentalists dispute Mr. Cheney's contention that nuclear power is the cleanest source of energy because they say the mining and enriching of uranium and the storage of nuclear waste are hazards.

Mr. Cheney indicated that the administration would put some emphasis on energy efficiency. New technology — like computer screens that use far less power and energy-efficient light bulbs — have an important role because they can save energy without reducing living standards, he said. But he said he would oppose any measure based on the premise that Americans now "live too well" or that people should "do more with less."

"The aim here is efficiency, not austerity," he said. "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."

Some people who have talked with administration officials about the energy plan expect that the policy will include some tax-related measures to promote efficiency. Among those considered most likely are tax credits for people who buy fuel-efficient automobiles and for power companies that produce electricity using renewable energy sources.

But the budget Mr. Bush submitted to Congress in early April sharply reduced spending by the Department of Energy on research and development for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.

"They give lip service to efficiency, but their whole emphasis is on supply," said Senator Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who has introduced energy legislation that he says strikes a finer balance between increasing supply and controlling demand.

In a report to be released later this week, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy estimates that raising the fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks by what it calls a modest amount could do far more to reduce reliance on imported oil than drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Fuel economy standards reached their peak in 1988, when the average passenger vehicle covered 26 miles on a gallon of gas. The average fell to 24 miles per gallon last year, because more Americans drive light trucks, which have lower mandated efficiency standards than cars.

Raising average fuel use by cars and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon by 2010 would result in oil savings of 1.5 million barrels a day by that time, the report says. The United States Geological Survey estimates that the Alaskan refuge would probably produce 580,000 barrels a day later this decade.

Mr. Cheney did not discuss the merits of raising government-mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards in his address today. But he strongly defended the administration's proposal to allow drilling for oil and gas in the Alaskan refuge.

The administration has sent mixed signals recently on how hard it intends to push to open the refuge. Christie Whitman, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, said earlier this month that the energy plan would not emphasize drilling in the Alaskan wilderness, but other officials contradicted her.

Mr. Cheney left little doubt of his support. He said new oil-drilling technologies meant that exploration could take place in the 19-million- acre refuge without disturbing wildlife. The affected area totals no more than 2,000 acres, he said, "one-fifth the size of Dulles Airport."