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White House Dissects Democrats' Energy Plan

Tuesday, 15 May 2001 12:00 AM

"There are several interesting overlaps between the Democrat plan and the president's plan. And there are several areas in the Democrat plan that are worth noting and worth support," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer in an afternoon news briefing.

Democrats responded to the Bush administration's forthcoming energy policy with a focus on short-term relief for consumers and an aggressive push to protect the nation's environmental resources. At the same time, they leveled stinging criticism of the president - accusing him of divisive politics and a short-sighted plan that disparages the value of energy efficiency.

"The Democrat plan, just like the one the president will offer, promotes efficiency, conservation and renewables. The plan offered on the Hill by some Democrats includes funds for weatherization and for [the Low Income Energy Assistance Program] to help low-income Americans. So, too, does the president's budget and the president's plan," he said.

The energy task force led by Vice President Dick Cheney has given brief glimpses of 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.

Over the next 20 years, just meeting projected demand will require from 1,300 to 1,900 new power plants, averaging out to more than one new plant per week, every week, for 20 years running, Cheney said. And the Bush plan would also call for opening a tiny part of the huge Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a proposal that has sparked the ire of leftists.

An ABC News poll said 43 percent of adults disapprove of the president's handling of the energy situation, which 39 percent approve, and 18 percent had no opinion.

In an all-out effort to drum up support for the energy policy, Bush administration officials have met with more than 100 groups and industry leaders, including labor, renewable technology and power companies. On Monday they briefed Senate staff on the plan, then later talked with the union leaders who will see a surge of union jobs if power plant and pipeline construction projects go forward.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the Bush administration understood only production when it comes to energy.

"They come from the oil industry. They're sensitive to the oil industry. And in many cases, you know, I think that that's where their heart is," he said. "And so, you know, I think that there's no question that we've got a broader and a far more comprehensive approach, and we've got to look for ways with which to do that.

"'GOP' seems to stand for 'gas, oil and plutonium,'" Daschle said.

The Democrat plan also calls for targeted tax incentives for domestic production of crude oil, creation of a Northeast Home Heating Oil reserve and a price-reporting requirement that would allow independent marketers an equal opportunity to obtain the lowest price for vehicle fuels.

And in an effort to target the problems of the Western states - particularly California, which has been plagued with rolling blackouts and escalating utility prices - the Democrat plan calls for Congress to pass the Feinstein-Smith bill. The measure would cap wholesale prices until March 1, 2003, as a way of ending price "gouging" and ensures electrical suppliers that they will be paid. It also calls on the Justice Department to investigate energy pricing.

"Price controls have never worked. They're artificial. They end up causing more damage and hurting more people than the backers of price controls would indicate," Fleischer said.

But Daschle disagreed.

"I think the president deserves an answer to the question, 'Why are gas prices going up at the very time the oil companies are making excess and record profits?'" Daschle said. "No one has answered that question, and if anybody ought to be able to get an answer, it ought to be the president."

The Democrats' plan also would call for development of an Alaskan natural gas pipeline with stronger oversight to enhance safety, and expanded tax credits for modifications to coal plants to allow the use of biomass technology. It also supports continued research into nuclear power and environmentally sound methods to reduce and safely dispose of nuclear waste.

To reduce the high cost of gasoline at the pumps, the Democrats would call on OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers to increase production and for the Bush administration to prepare to release crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the event of future price spikes.

"If tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve had worked, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in now," Fleischer said. He said the United States was in "quiet diplomatic conversations" to nudge OPEC into increasing production.

The Democrat plan responds to calls from the renewable-energy industry to give them a larger portion of the mainstream energy market. Democrats recommend increasing tax incentives to 20 percent for solar and geothermal power, extending the credit to wind and biomass and other alternative sources. And it calls for the creation of a renewable energy bank funded at $1 billion over the next 10 years to finance alternative energy projects such as replacing solar panels on schools or universities.

The Democrats' proposal would also expand tax credits to consumers who buy energy-efficient homes, retrofit homes with renewable energy technology and drive fuel-efficient cars.

With the Bush policy due for release on Thursday, Daschle said lawmakers could not afford to wait another month to get a measure through Congress.

"It ought to come up even sooner than that. There's no question we ought to be able to move an energy package. There ought to be bipartisan support for addressing conservation, for addressing alternative sources, for addressing supply, for addressing the manner with which gas and oil is transported throughout the country. The infrastructure itself needs addressing.

"Those are the kinds of issues that could be addressed, and they ought to happen well before the Fourth of July," Daschle said.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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There are several interesting overlaps between the Democrat plan and the president's plan. And there are several areas in the Democrat plan that are worth noting and worth support, said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer in an afternoon news briefing. Democrats...
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Tuesday, 15 May 2001 12:00 AM
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