Backlash Hits Bush Energy Policy

WASHINGTON, DC, May 18, 2001 (ENS) - Criticisms of the Bush administration's National Energy Policy unveiled Thursday are being expressed by a wide range of citizens groups and politicians from across the political spectrum and around the world. Objections to its reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power rather than renewables and conservation dominate the comments.

"The Bush energy plan is an all-you-can-eat buffet for big oil, gas, mining, nuclear, and timber. Industry executives are salivating over this plan more than a Texan at a rib roast," said Brian Vincent, California organizer for the national conservation group American Lands.

President Bush's energy policy fails to meet the test of conservative leadership, REP America, the national grassroots organization of Republicans for environmental protection, said today.

"The plan doesn't go far enough to improve our energy efficiency," said REP America executive director Jim Scarantino. "It perpetuates our dangerous dependence on oil, a national security risk. The plan would pick the taxpayers' pockets to continue giving handouts to the coal and nuclear industries. It threatens America's natural heritage by throwing our wild lands wide open to drilling. And it does little to address global warming, irresponsibly dumping a costly burden on our descendants."


California Governor Gray Davis (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
California Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat whose state has been hit by high energy prices and repeated rolling blackouts, slammed President Bush's energy plan Thursday, saying the administration is "turning a blind eye to the bleeding and hemorrhaging that exists in this state."

While agreeing with Bush that America needs more supply, Davis faulted the President "for not providing California with any immediate relief."

"We are literally in a war with energy companies, many of which reside in Texas," Davis said. Texas is Bush's home state where he served as governor since 1996 during the time when deregulation of California's electricity industry forced California power suppliers to purchase electricity out of state.

Sensitive to the storm of complaints, President George W. Bush, out selling the plan to the American public, is stressing the parts of his energy plan that deal with conservation and renewables.


President George W. Bush (Photo courtesy the White House)
"It starts with encouraging and enhancing conservation efforts all around America," Bush told a crowd in Conestoga, Pennsylvania today. "We're going to have better cars, I'm convinced of it, that have better mileage, rely less upon hydrocarbons. We'll have better homes, many of which will be powered by solar energy. This future is fantastic for the country. And a lot of it is based upon good, sound conservation measures," the president said.

But Bush went on to extoll the virtues of nuclear power generation, and press his view that drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in other fragile ecosystems can be done with little environmental impact and must be done "not only for national security reasons, but for international reasons, as well."

Mark Van Putten, president of the National Wildlife Federation, America's largest environmental organization said, "The nation's need for a stable energy supply must not be satisfied at the expense of people, wildlife and wild places. We must not surrender our natural treasures to a short sighted drilling frenzy, as this plan threatens. The administration proposes to rush ahead with increased energy production, invading some of the nation's wildest and most sensitive public lands by side-stepping the very safeguards established to protect them."


The McGuire nuclear power plant near Charlotte, North Carolina, is owned and operated by Duke Power. (Photo courtesy Nuclear Regulatory Commission)
"The Bush-Cheney administration's promotion of nuclear energy is distressingly short-sighted and potentially dangerous," said Kyle Rabin, Nuclear Energy Policy Project Director for the Albany, New York based Environmental Advocates. "It's all about denial and fantasy: Denying the nuclear meltdowns and near disasters; fantasizing that Yucca Mountain will solve the country's radioactive waste problems. Nuclear power must be phased out."

The League of Conservation Voters, a national organization, rejected the Bush plan because it focuses on "dirty, unreliable and inefficient fossil fuels and other energy sources that threaten the health of our environment and the strength of our economy." Bush's proposal will "ensure high public health costs and energy demand well into the future, protecting the corporate bottom line of his big oil and coal allies at the expense of the public's interest in clean air, safe water, open spaces, and low electricity and gas prices," the voters' advocacy group said.

"Bush's dirty, unbalanced, irresponsible energy policy has placed the special oil and coal interests that funded his campaign over the public's interest in a clean, reliable, safe, and affordable energy supply," said Deb Callahan, League of Conservation Voters president.


Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk (Photo courtesy IISD)
In Europe, the backlash is equally strong. Speaking on Dutch television yesterday, Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk, who is chairman of international talks on the Kyoto climate protocol, said the plan was a "disastrous development" which would "undoubtedly" lead to increased emissions of carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas linked to global warming.

Today, a spokesman for European Union Energy Commissioner Loyola de Palacio said the newly announced policy "confirms the U.S. is not taking Kyoto into account" in its domestic policies. Notably lacking from the policy, the EU claims, are demand related measures such as improved energy efficiency or fiscal measures to reduce consumption.

In the European Parliament, Green Members yesterday launched a petition calling for a consumer boycott of U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil. The Green party is claiming that representatives from four of the assembly's five major parties have already backed its call and says it expects well over 100 of the parliament's 626 members to sign the petition.


Petroleum refinery in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by David Parsons courtesy National Renewable Energy Lab)
The MEPs' action follows launch of an NGO-backed boycott campaign against ExxonMobil in the UK May 8. The groups said yesterday that an independent opinion poll showed over half the UK's petrol buyers support the move.

Despite these criticisms, President Bush is pressing forward to implement his energy policy. In executive orders issued today, the President directed all federal agencies to "expedite" their review of permits or take other actions as necessary to accelerate the completion of energy related projects, "while maintaining safety, public health, and environmental protections."

Bush established an interagency task force to be chaired by the head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. It will monitor and assist the agencies in their efforts to expedite their review of permits or similar actions, as necessary, to accelerate the completion of energy related projects, increase energy production and conservation, and improve transmission of energy.


U.S. Department of Energy headquarters in Washington, DC (Photo courtesy U.S. DOE)
The task force will monitor and assist agencies in setting up mechanisms to coordinate federal, state, tribal, and local permitting in geographic areas "where increased permitting activity is expected." The task force will be housed at the Department of Energy for administrative purposes.

Another executive order Bush issued today requires that any federal agency proposing a major regulatory action that significantly affects energy must file a statement of energy impact if the decision will have an adverse affect on energy supply, distribution or use. The agency must describe what reasonable alternatives to its decision may exist.

"The statement of energy impact is not a red light, preventing any agency from taking any action," Bush explained. "It is a yellow light that says, pause and think before you make decisions that squeeze consumer's pocketbooks, that may cause energy shortages or that may make us more dependent on foreign energy."