President Bush's new energy policy is, in many ways, a bold plan
to reshape America's energy landscape.
It would put controversial new emphasis on drilling for oil and
gas on federal lands and on boosting coal and nuclear power.
Yet observers also see it as carefully calibrated to reflect the
political and economic realities of the times. In a historical
sense, for instance, it's far less dramatic than both President
Nixon's 1971 price controls and President Reagan's '80s-era
Instead, the plan pushes America further along an energy-policy
path it started down two decades ago - toward reliance on free-
market forces, not government dominance and regulation.
And while it raises the ire of environmentalists by proposing
drilling in Alaska's arctic refuge, it also includes specific nods
to conservation, like a tax credit for those who buy hybrid or fuel-
The report is cautiously crafted to avoid the mistakes of
President Clinton's 1993 healthcare plan. That plan called for new
government regulation of an industry, and was criticized as being
so complex and detail-ridden that Congress was loath to tackle it.
By contrast, the Bush energy policy will, if anything, loosen
government contols - and it has few specifics, numerical targets,
or deadlines that could swamp it amid legislative squabbling.
The unknowable variable now, though, is how fast market forces
will work to shrink fuel prices and ease consumer worries.
Republicans up for election in 2002 - that is, all GOP lawmakers in
the House and at least 18 in Senate - would like some assurance
that they won't be punished at the polls if Bush doesn't respond
convincingly enough to this year's energy crunch.
Overall, the report rules out a major government role in energy.
"We've pretty much agreed that things like price controls don't
work," says Jay Hakes, who until recently headed the Energy
Information Administration here. But, he adds, the US public is of
two minds on the topic. "When things go bad, we say, 'Where's the
To the degree that Bush proposes intervention by Uncle Sam, his
favorite tool is tax credits - financial breaks for companies and
individuals who buy, say, fuel-efficient cars or who invest in wind
power, for example. But his plan rejects the more dramatic steps
such as electricity price caps - which Democrats championed in an
alternative plan they unveiled this week.
Bush is also trying to strike a balance between big impact and
political viability. The memory of Hillary Rodham Clinton's big-
content healthcare plan, a dismal failure politically, still haunts
Washington. Consequently, the Bush plan is light on action that
requires Congress - and is filled instead with items that use
presidential or Cabinet fiat. Of the report's 105 recommendations,
73 are directives to federal agencies. Just 20 require
The conservation element
In package and presentation, the plan is designed to blunt the
biggest criticism: that it's a drill-and-dig strategy unconcerned
with conservation, renewables, and the environment.
Yesterday in St. Paul, Minn., Bush implored Americans to stop
seeing this as an either-or choice. "The truth is, energy
production and environmental protection are not competing
priorities. They're dual aspects of a single purpose - to live well
and wisely upon the earth."
His plan calls for $5 billion in new spending over 10 years,
mostly in tax credits for conservation, renewable-energy sources
such as wind and solar power, high-mileage vehicles, and power
plants that use organic waste.
Critics point to Bush's budget proposals for next year, which
would cut spending on energy-efficiency research by 29 percent and
renewable-energy research by 32 percent.
Neither does the plan directly address gas-guzzling automobiles. …