San Diego Union-Tribune

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30-Jan-2001 Tuesday 

CALIFORNIA POWER CRISIS 
   Bush intiates search for new energy policy 


By TOBY ECKERT 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON -- With California's power crisis as a backdrop, President Bush yesterday directed Vice President Dick Cheney and other top officials to "act boldly and swiftly" to develop a new national energy policy.

"We're very aware in this administration that the situation in California is beginning to affect neighboring states," Bush said. "Western governors
... (are) deeply concerned about the situation spreading beyond the California borders, and so are we."

But Bush stressed again that the problems in the Golden State are only one facet of the discussions and that "the situation is going to be best remedied in California by Californians."

The meeting between the president and Cabinet members marked the start of the administration's push for a policy largely aimed at expanding domestic supplies of oil, natural gas and coal through increased drilling and mining -- including on public lands like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Key members of Congress are working on a similar plan. Their blueprint reportedly includes increased funding for solar, wind and other renewable power sources. But the legislation may take months to craft.

"It's becoming very clear to the country that demand is outstripping supply, that there are more users of electricity and natural gas than there are ... new units being found, and we've got to do something about that," Bush told reporters before the start of the closed-door meeting with Cabinet members.

Environmentalists vow to wage an all-out battle against opening the Alaska refuge and other protected lands to drilling and mining. California
Assemblyman Fred Keeley, D-Boulder Creek, told The Associated Press that Bush was using the state's energy crisis as "a subterfuge and ruse" to gain political support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Besides Cheney, the president's energy task force includes Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.

After the meeting, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said "there was no new ground broken" on the California crisis.

The administration has used the state's power crunch as a prime exhibit in arguing for more extensive exploitation of the nation's fossil fuel reserves.

"One of the factors that we've seen is that (power) demand has grown . . . particularly in California, where no new supplies have been brought on
line, no new plants have been built," Fleischer said. "So to address an imbalance, what's important, in the president's opinion, is to increase supply.

"We need to increase our supply from domestic supplies, which means oil, it means natural gas, it means coal, it means clean-burning coal. That's where the focus will be to a substantial degree," Fleischer said.

Cheney, like Bush, is a former oil company executive. But Fleischer said that should not raise concerns that the administration's proposals will be more favorable to energy companies than consumers.

During the presidential campaign, Bush proposed opening 1.5 million acres of the Alaskan wildlife refuge -- 8 percent of its total area -- to oil
exploration. He also said he would order a review of drilling and mining restrictions on other federal land.

Bush has said he supports the moratorium on new drilling off the coasts of California and Florida.

Yesterday's White House meeting kicked off a flurry of federal activity this week on energy issues facing California and other states. On Wednesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold hearings on the California crisis and its impact on neighboring states.

California utility officials and executives from companies that supply power to the state are among those slated to testify.

Abraham will go to Portland, Ore., late in the week for a meeting with Western governors -- including California Gov. Gray Davis.