Energy Fight Heats Up in Washington

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, May 16, 2001 (ENS) - Union leaders expressed cautious approval Monday for Bush administration plans to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, saying the proposal could generate thousands of new jobs. But Tuesday afternoon, House Democrats unveiled their own energy plan, focusing on energy efficiency instead of new production.

Vice President Richard Cheney met Monday with Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and 18 labor leaders in hopes of winning union support for the White House energy plan, to be released Thursday. They found a ready ally in Teamsters Union president James Hoffa, who said he agreed with President George W. Bush's emphasis on developing domestic energy supplies and building more energy infrastructure, rather than energy conservation.


Vice President Richard Cheney has led a White House task force on energy that will announce its findings Thursday (Photo courtesy The White House)
"We like a lot of things" about the White House energy plan, said Hoffa. "We do believe we need more nuclear plants. We do believe we need more refining capacity; we haven't been building refineries."

"The amount of people involved would be in the literally hundreds of thousands," Hoffa said. "I think it's important to get people back to work, and I think this is going to be a very important thing to our nation to do this."

Regarding Bush's controversial proposal to drill in part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, Hoffa said the nation's growing population will need the oil and natural gas believed to be stored beneath the pristine refuge.

"We need the gasoline, we need the fuel from Alaska," Hoffa told reporters after the meeting. "It's a large pool of oil up there, and I think thatīll be helpful to solving the problem."


Teamsters union president James Hoffa said he supports much of the Bush energy plan (Photo International Brotherhood of Teamsters)
The Teamsters cited a study by Wharton Econometrics, an economics forecasting company, which projects that expanded oil and natural gas drilling would create 25,000 new jobs for transportation and pipelines workers, and an additional 700,000 jobs for workers across the nation.

More workers would be needed to build the 1,300 to 1,900 new power plants called for in the Bush plan.

Also speaking out in support of the Bush plan was Douglas McCarron, general president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. Both the Carpenters Union and the Teamsters supported President Bush's opponent, former Vice President Al Gore, in the presidential race.

The Democrats, who have traditionally enjoyed the political support of labor interests, released their own energy plan Tuesday, which contrasts starkly with the Bush plan. The 15 page plan is designed to counter the "misguided notion that America must sacrifice the environment in order to maximize energy production,"

"We believe that America's current and future energy needs can be met without compromising our nation's fundamental environmental values," says the plan released by House Democrats. "We believe that the federal government can lead by example and become more energy efficient, invest in innovative technologies, and assure that energy markets are fair and competitive."


House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt unveiled the Democrats' long term energy plan Tuesday (Photo Office of the House Leader)
"The differences between our principles and President Bush's could not be greater," said House Democrativ Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri. "The President has a highly flawed agenda focused more on the needs of the energy lobby than average consumers and small businesses."

The Democrats plan supports the development of domestic energy sources, but would emphasize alternative energy to a far greater extent than the Bush plan. The proposal also calls for increased conservation by government, businesses and private citizens.

Under the plan unveiled by Gephardt and Representative Martin Frost, a Texas Democrat, the government would offer tax credits of up to $4,000 for the purchase of energy efficient vehicles and homes. The plan would create more stringent fuel efficiency standards for light trucks and sport utility vehicles, a proposal long supported by conservation groups.

In direct opposition to the Bush plan, the Democrats called for price caps on electricity sold in Western states, particularly California, where the state government has approved rate increased of up to 80 percent.

"Democrats propose effective protections against price gouging, retroactive tax credits for better energy efficiency and assistance to lower income families and the elderly on fixed incomes to help meet and lower their energy costs," the plan states.

White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer criticized this portion of the Democrats' plan, saying the price controls, "ultimately create greater energy problems."

Fleischer also condemned the Democrats suggestion that the government release more oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which President Bill Clinton tapped last summer in response to skyrocketing gasoline prices.

"If tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve had worked, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in now," Fleischer said.

power lines

Both Democrats and Republicans agree the nation will need to repair and expand its electricity transmission infrastructure (Photo courtesy National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
However, Fleischer noted that, "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," such as the plan's emphasis on promoting "efficiency, conservation and renewables," which Fleischer said will also be part of the Bush plan.

Continuing their emphasis on the past ties between the President, Vice President and the oil industry, Democrats suggested that Bush is putting industry interests before the interest of the nation.

"Look at the record. The Administration's Task Force has spent months operating behind closed doors and is reportedly made up of executives and campaign contributors from the energy industry," charged Gephardt. "The President has appointed a host of energy lobbyists to key posts, and they seem willing to put the national interest second."

"We call on the President to move away from the special interests and put the interests of the American people first," Gephardt concluded. "We call on him to reject the radical, production only approach and to embrace a balanced program that will increase production, protect the environment and invest in efficiency and new technologies."