Speaking at a joint meeting of U.S. and Canadian newspaper editors, Cheney said that a U.S. federal task force would outline a new energy strategy for the United States within the next few weeks. He said it would recommend a mix of new legislation, executive action and private sector initiatives.
Cheney, pointing to the Clinton administration, said America's looming energy crisis was generated by a the lack of a domestic policy that has to be addressed using a mix of nuclear power, coal-burning refineries and oil extracted from a controversial Arctic wildlife refuge in an effort to satisfy the nation's increased thirst for power.
Cheney said: "Without a clear, coherent energy strategy for the nation, all Americans could one day go through what Californians are experiencing now, or worse. Such a strategy requires a hard look at the country's needs - and what is required, in supplies and infrastructure, to meet demand.
"America's energy challenges are serious, but they are not perplexing," he said. "We know what needs to be done. We've always had the ability. We still have the resources.
"And, as of 100 days ago, we once again have the leadership."
Cheney said while it was "a good thing to conserve energy in our daily lives, and probably all of us can think of ways to do so … to speak exclusively of conservation is to duck the tough issues."
"Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy. People work very hard to get where they are. And the hardest working are the least likely to go around squandering energy, or anything else that costs them money.
"A few years ago, many people had never heard the term 'rolling blackout.' Now everybody in California knows the term all too well," Cheney said. "And the rest of America is starting to wonder when these rolling blackouts might roll over them."
The Bush administration has been reviewing strategies to avoid massive power supply shortages like those plaguing California, a state crisis that forced utility companies to shut off electricity to parts of the state for short periods of time. Cheney's task force has, since January, been developing a policy that would increase the United States' supply demands and lessen its dependence on foreign oil.
"America's reliance on energy, and fossil fuels in particular, has lately taken on an urgency not felt since the late 1970s," Cheney said.
Giving a glimpse at what the panel would most likely suggest, Cheney said the United States would need to lay at least 38,000 more miles of natural-gas pipelines and thousands of miles of additional distribution lines that would pump gas into homes and businesses.
"Think of this: During the Arab oil embargo of the '70s, 36 percent of our oil came from abroad. Today it's 56 percent, growing steadily, and under the current trend is set to reach 64 percent less than two decades from now. Here's what we know about natural gas: By 2020, our demand will rise by two-thirds," Cheney said.
Over the next 20 years, just meeting projected demand will require between 1,300 and 1,900 new power plants, averaging out to more than one new plant per week, every week, for 20 years running, he said.
He cited the need for repairing and expanding electricity transmission systems, improving natural gas distribution pipelines and building modern oil refineries.
"We must also increase our refining capacity to prevent the kind of bottlenecks that cause gasoline prices to spike in different parts of the country," Cheney said. "It's been about 20 years since a large refinery was built in the United States."
Cheney raised the issue of drilling for oil in a small part of the 19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
"The amount of land affected by oil production would be 2,000 acres," he said. "The notion that somehow developing the resources in ANWR requires a vast despoiling of the environment is probably false."
The vice president pledged the Bush administration will insist on protecting and enhancing the environment, no matter what route its new energy strategy takes.
Coal will remain the most plentiful source of affordable energy in the country and the primary source of electric power, he said, adding that to "try and tell ourselves otherwise is to deny blunt reality."
"Coal is not the cleanest source of energy, and we must support efforts to improve clean-coal technology to soften its impact on the environment. That leads me to the second principle of our energy strategy: good stewardship," Cheney said.
The U.S. government has not granted a permit for a nuclear plant in more than 20 years, and many nuclear plants are old and expected to shut down. Cheney said that environmentally, the United States was fortunate that one-fifth of the nation's electricity is nuclear generated.
"If we're 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," Cheney said.
The vice president said it was "a cherished myth that energy production and the environment must always involve competing values."
"If we're 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, very plentiful energy source," he said.
Still, he said he was not yet willing to stake the country's energy needs on the possibility that renewable and alternative energy sources would fill the void.
"Years down the road alternative fuels may become a great deal more plentiful than they are today," he said, "but we are not yet in any position to stake our economy and way of life on that possibility.
"We know that in the next two decades, the country's demand for oil will grow by a third, yet we are producing less oil today - 39 percent less - than we were in 1970. We make up the difference with imports, relying ever more on the good graces of foreign suppliers."
On natural gas, he said, "By 2020, our demand will increase by two-thirds. This is a plentiful, clean-burning fuel and we're producing and using more of it than ever before. What we've not done is to build all the needed infrastructure to carry it from the source to the user.
"Overall, demand for electric power is expected to rise by 43 percent over the next 20 years," he said.
"For the oil we need, unless we choose to accept our growing dependence on foreign supplies and all that goes with that, we must increase domestic production from known sources," he said.
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