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Bush Energy Plan said to Help Industry, Not Public

by Tom Doggett
Reuters - January 23, 2002

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration's energy plan will make the U.S. economy more dependent on oil and was designed to help Enron and oil companies, not the American public, a Democratic senator said Tuesday.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, a likely presidential candidate in 2004, fired the opening salvo in what was expected to be a bitter, partisan fight this winter over a national energy policy that is a legislative priority for both parties.

Republicans have endorsed a plan to boost oil supplies by drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, while Democrats contend that more conservation measures and stricter fuel efficiency for gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles can accomplish the same goal without ravaging the wilderness.

Kerry said the White House has not offered an agenda for energy independence but instead wants to help energy companies like Enron. The Houston-based firm, which had close ties to several Bush administration officials, ranked as the world's biggest energy trader before it filed for bankruptcy.

"Old thinking passed through the (White House) doors of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue far more often and easily than new thinking. Exxon Mobil, Enron, or Chevron enjoyed an access bonanza at the expense of consumers,'' Kerry said in a speech to the Center for National Policy. The center is a nonprofit group headed by Leon Panetta, the former chief of staff for ex-President Clinton.

The Senate, which returns from its holiday recess Wednesday, is scheduled to begin debate next month on a Democratic-sponsored energy bill.

The Democrats prefer to keep the Arctic wildlife refuge closed and instead develop more renewable energy sources like wind and solar power and implement energy conservation measures. The refuge, which stretches for some 19 million acres on Alaska's northern coast, is home to polar bears, migratory birds, and other wildlife.

The Republican-led House last year approved a broad energy bill that would give oil companies access to the Arctic refuge as well as more than $33 billion in tax breaks and incentives.

Before the full Senate begins debate on its energy bill, the Senate Finance Committee will first approve between $10 billion and $15 billion in energy tax breaks, and the Senate Committee Committee will strengthen mileage requirements for vehicles.


The Teamsters Union told President Bush last week it was close to getting the 60 Senate votes needed to add language to the energy bill opening the refuge and to block a threatened filibuster by Democrats. The Teamsters back drilling because of the high-paying union jobs it would create.

Kerry is one of several Senate Democrats who have vowed to filibuster to death any bill allowing drilling in the refuge. Even if the Arctic refuge was opened to drilling, it would not be at full production for some 20 years, Kerry said.

Government estimates say the refuge may hold up to 16 billion barrels of oil. The United States must import more than half the 20 million barrels of oil per day that it consumes.

"Obviously we all agree that reducing our dependence on foreign oil, especially oil from the politically toxic Middle East, is a necessity,'' Kerry said. "But the American people want honesty about how you do it, not a false security blanket that promises something undeliverable in the short term and precious little amounting to real progress in the long term,'' he added.

But Kerry said if the entire Bush energy plan was implemented, the United States by 2020 would be more dependent on foreign oil than it is now. Foreign oil accounts for 60 percent of U.S. petroleum consumed today.

A better policy would be to increase mileage requirements for minivans and sport utility vehicles, Kerry said, adding that would save millions of barrels of oil a year. A national energy policy should also develop more renewable energy like wind and solar and set a goal of having 20 percent of U.S. electricity from renewable sources by 2020, he said.

Bush, who has called for funding for ways to make coal a cleaner fuel, was promoting his energy plan Tuesday in West Virginia, the heart of coal-mining country. "This nation needs an energy policy,'' Bush said. "Jobs depend on affordable energy. If there's (an energy) price spike or a disruption in supply, people may not have work.''

The administration has also sought to link opening the Arctic wildlife refuge to national security, saying new domestic sources of crude oil are essential to U.S. interests. "We're dependent on energy from some parts of the world, where sometimes they like us and sometimes they don't,'' Bush said.

Tom Doggett, Reuters
Bush Energy Plan said to Help Industry, Not Public
Reuters January 23, 2002

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