Bush energy plan concentrates on long-term answers


President George W. Bush, preparing a plan to address the country’s energy needs, sees no short-term fixes for consumers facing big electric bills and US$2-a-gallon gasoline.

Instead, Bush views long-term energy development as the answer, and he is certain to face a battle in Congress over his plan, which is to be released later this week.

The administration hoped to garner support Monday from labor leaders whose union members would benefit from energy development and power-plant construction. Among those meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney was Teamsters president James Hoffa.

If this summer’s high fuel prices turn into soaring home heating costs next winter, Bush’s focus on long-term solutions could become a political problem not only for the White House, but also for congressional Republicans facing reelection in 2002, say some political analysts.

On Sunday, California Gov. Gray Davis accused the White House of ignoring “the greed of … Texas energy companies” by refusing to call for temporary price caps on soaring electricity costs in California and elsewhere across the West.

Davis, a Democrat, said on ABC television’s “This Week” that the administration “was dropping the ball” by refusing to address the West’s power crisis.

Bush, who like Cheney is a former energy company executive, says that interfering in the free market would deter investment in power plants and worsen electricity supply problems.

Environmentalists and congressional Democrats say his plan will be too heavily tilted toward production of conventional fuels and not conservation or development of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy.

Bush sought to blunt that criticism in his weekly radio address, promising a “comprehensive energy plan to help bring new supplies of energy to the markets.” His proposals will encourage Americans “to use more wisely the energy supplies that exist today,” he said.

The proposed conservation measures released by the White House were modest: tax credits for hybrid gas electric cars now only nudging into the market; an expansion of a federal educational and advisory program on energy efficiency; and tax and regulatory relief to promote energy efficient co-generation power plants that provide both electricity and heat.

The White House energy task force that Cheney leads will focus heavily on removing barriers to developing traditional energy sources — oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power.

While details remain sketchy, task force members have said the 100-page policy document will attempt to set a new “tone” on energy policy that supports free market approaches, less regulation and the need for a balance among various energy sources.