Energy Debate Hot and Heavy in Washington
By Brian Hansen
WASHINGTON, DC, February 6, 2001 (ENS) - An influential
Republican lawmaker this week joined a renowned environmental group in
calling for the enactment of a national energy policy far more
comprehensive in scope than the Bush administration's oft-cited proposal
of drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Representative Joe Barton, a Republican from President George W. Bush's
home state of Texas, said in a speech Monday that the nation "won't have
an energy policy" if the White House and Congress fail to take steps that
go significantly beyond simply opening the Arctic refuge's pristine
coastal plain to oil development.
Representative Joe Barton of Texas (Photo courtesy Office of
Barton, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy
and air quality, told members of the American Public Power Association
that he wants to conduct an "energy inventory" of the nation's natural
resources. The inventory, Barton said, will be used to craft legislation
that outlines a broad, multi-pronged approach to solving the nation's
Barton, a self described proponent of "environmentally protective"
energy sources such as "clean" coal and "zero emissions" nuclear power
plants, said he hopes to soon meet with President Bush, Vice President
Dick Cheney and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham in order to "flesh out" a
comprehensive energy policy for the administration.
CALIFORNIA GROUND ZERO IN ENERGY DEBATE
Barton's call Monday for a comprehensive national energy policy came
just hours before the expiration of an emergency federal order that
required west coast power wholesalers to sell electricity to California's
nearly bankrupt utility companies. The emergency order, which was
originally issued in mid-December by the Clinton administration, was
designed to provide short term relief from the electricity shortage that
many critics say was brought on by a controversial deregulation measure
enacted in 1996 by the California state legislature.
Millions of miles of power lines deliver electricity to communities
across the United States (Photo courtesy National Renewable Energy
Bush extended the order for a period of two weeks on January 23, three
days after he was sworn in as the nation's new president. But Bush
yesterday declined to extend the order further, leaving the state of
California to cope on its own with an electricity shortage that last month
led to rolling blackouts that left millions of people and myriad
businesses without power.
Under a plan hammered out in the California legislature last week, the
state will sell bonds in order to purchase electricity from out-of-state
producers. California officials hope that the plan will buy enough time to
stave off bankruptcy for the state's two largest private utilities, which
have to date amassed nearly $13 billion in debts as a result of the
ENVIRONMENT A POLARIZING FACTOR
For many Republicans on Capitol Hill, the California electricity
shortage is symptomatic of a larger problem - the nation's dependence on
foreign oil. And that dependency on foreign oil, those critics say, is
directly tied to the spate of overly stringent environmental regulations
promulgated during the eight year Clinton/Gore administration.
Many Congressional Republicans maintain that the Clinton administration
exacerbated the nation's energy problems through its environmentally
motivated land management initiatives, many of which prohibited oil and
gas development on public lands throughout the West. Utah Republican James
Hansen, who chairs the House Resources committee, has promised that his
panel will conduct a "vigorous review" of the previous administration's
environmental initiatives, some of which Hansen has suggested may be
Meanwhile, Hansen and other Republican leaders have been pushing hard
to open more of the nation's public lands to oil and gas exploration,
including the environmentally sensitive coastal plain of Alaska's Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The ANWR drilling initiative is the
energy policy centerpiece of the fledgling Bush administration, which
maintains that the refuge's copious amounts of oil can be extracted in an
environmentally sensitive manner.
Even Barton, the Texas Republican who this week called on the Bush
administration to adopt a more comprehensive energy policy, has advocated
parts of Alaska to "environmentally responsible energy exploration."
ARCTIC REFUGE AT CENTER OF ENERGY CONTROVERSY
But most environmental groups are vigorously opposed to the ANWR
drilling initiative, saying it would forever scar one of the last truly
wild places on earth, while doing little to ameliorate the nation's
dependence on foreign oil imports. The Natural Resources Defense Council
(NRDC) today articulated that position once again, as it held a news
conference in Washington to unveil what it called a "responsible" energy
policy for the 21st century.
"Drilling for oil in the Arctic Refuge coastal plain makes no sense
from an environmental, economic energy perspective," said Greg Wetstone,
the group's director of programs. "The real solution to our energy
problems is increased fuel efficiency."
This power substation in California delivers wind-produced electricity
to the state's power grid (Photo by Warren Gretz, courtesy National
Renewable Energy Laboratory)
Wetstone said that ANWR drilling proponents grossly overstate how much
oil could be recovered from the refuge, and understate the potential
environmental consequences of the Bush-backed proposal. Wetstone said that
drilling in the refuge would provide less than 1 percent of the oil that
the nation is projected to consume over the course of the next 50 years.
Moreover, even if oil companies started exploration in the refuge today,
it would be least 10 years before for the first drop of oil would arrive
at West Coast refineries, Wetstone added.
Wetsone's point was echoed on Tuesday by Dr. Daniel Lashof, an NRDC
senior scientist. Lahsof lashed out at the Bush administration and its
Republican supporters in Congress, who generally maintain that the energy
woes plaguing California and the rest of the nation can - and should - be
solved by tweaking the supply side of the equation.
"The United States cannot produce its way out of oil dependence,"
Lashof said that in terms of reducing the nation's dependence on
foreign oil, curbing energy consumption would be far more effective than
would increasing domestic production. For example, increasing average fuel
efficiency for new cars, sport utility vehicles and light trucks to 39
miles per gallon over the next decade would save 51 billion barrels of oil
over the next decade - more than 15 times the likely yield from ANWR,
The NRDC's energy policy, which the groups hopes will garner supporters
within the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill, is largely grounded on
energy efficiency technologies that are now readily available and cost
effective. In the short term, the plan calls for increased reliance on
natural gas as a "bridge" to renewable and environmentally sound energy
sources in the future. On a longer term basis, the plan calls for a
phasing out of the "dirtier" fossil fuels- oil and coal.
Republicans on Capitol Hill are expected to soon unveil their own
energy bill, which will likely include the Bush administration's proposal
of opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development.