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World Press Review is a program of the Stanley Foundation.
the August 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No.
Alaska or Bust: Bush's Energy Plan
Gabor Miklos, Népszabadság
(liberal), Budapest, Hungary,
May 22, 2001
George W. Bush administration already has well-established rituals.
For example, the president travels around his enormous countryhis
trip based on an elaborate PR planin order to make his current
program popular. He started his agenda with education, continued
it with taxes, and took a little international detour to bring the
problem of missile defense into the limelight. The majority of the
above issues were part of the Republican election platform as well.
in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska (Photo: U.S. Department of
Energy issues, too, were highlighted in the program. However, during
the election campaign, energy issues were mentioned only if the
Republican candidate was forced to defend himself against Democratic
accusations that he was insensitive to the question of environmental
preservation. One of the most important aspirations of the Democrats
was to prove that their opponent followed anti-environmental policies
as governor of Texas.
The recent presidential tour had practical motivations behind it;
there have been energy problems in the United States for a significant
period of time. This time, however [unlike the oil crisis of the
70s], there is no outside cause for the problems. Crude oil
supplies are undisturbed, and prices on the world market are reasonable.
News from California causes some concern and worry, though. In the
most populous and economically strong state of the union, there
has been an energy crisis for a long time, and rolling blackouts
have become frequent. No doubt the situation will only get worse
in the summer air-conditioning season.
Consumers are watching price rises at their neighborhood gas pumps
with increasing anxiety. The energy bill of an average American
has increased 23 percent in the past three years, and over the course
of a few weeks, an average 25-cent increase was experienced throughout
the country. In areas such as San Francisco and Chicago, the price
of the most commonly used type of gas has reached a steady price
level of more than US$2.20 per gallon.
Bigger companies have already warned the public that in the main
travel seasonduring the period following Independence Day,
July 4prices per gallon (3.8 liters) may increase to more
than $3. This is a frighteningly high expense for Americans. Cheap
gasoline is one of the prerequisites for the American lifestyle.
The threat of the $3 price has already forced many people to reconsider
their vacation plans.
Gasoline prices are worrying politicians expecting to be re-elected
and presidential advisers monitoring the public. This is the reason
they came out with a plan so swiftly. The concept was created by
Vice President Richard B. Cheneys team. Bush appointed him
to be responsible for energy issues. The task of making the plan
popular was taken over by the president himselfhe visited
four energy plants in four states in the course of a few days. The
proposal document is 170 pages long, and according to those surrounding
the president, this is the first comprehensive, long-term energy
Increasing energy production does not endanger the environment
was President Bushs message. The program breaks with the practice
of the past two and a half decades. Its main point is that instead
of conservation and economizing strategies, there must be a supply
sur-plus. Bush is returning to a kind of Reaganomics energy policy.
The president is planning to take some measures that have been long
demanded by energy producers. The most importantand controversialamong
these is allowing oil exploration in parts of the Alaskan Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge. According to Bush, new drilling techniques
do not threaten the fragile ecosystem of the tundra, and crude oil
would be transported only in winter, before the snow melts. Alaska
would provide an additional daily 600,000 barrels of crude oil,
the same amount the United States buys from Iraq today. The industry
would be allowed to build thousands of miles of gas pipes. Gas companies
would be aided in building new gasoline refineries. It is the general
opinion that the present rise in prices is caused by the fact that
oil refineries are used at a maximum of 96-percent capacity, and
strict environmental regulations make expansion difficult.
The president made an unexpected proposal, tooto free up the
use of atomic energy. The development of this industry was halted
in the 1980s in the United States. The reason: the accident at Three
Mile Island. Since then, atomic energy has provided 20 percent of
the entire electrical energy needs of the country, but the last
contract for building a nuclear power plant was signed in 1974.
The problem of storing radioactive nuclear waste and the used heating
units is as yet unresolved. Bushs plan would make construction
of new reactors in existing power plants easier. The president cited
France as a good example, where 80 percent of total energy demand
is satisfied by nuclear power plants. A host of licensing procedures
also would become easier under the auspices of the new energy plan.
In the following years, developers of renewable energy sources would
be awarded tax reductions.
Bush supports American participation in the exploration of the Caspian
Seas oil resources and wants to persuade Latin American and
Asian countries to increase their oil production. What has been
left out of the document, but which everyone talks about, is the
return of American oil business to the Iraqi, Iranian, and Libyan
oil fields currently under embargo. Former President Jimmy Carter
said in The Washington Post that the exaggerated demand for oil
outlined in the Bush energy plan serves to satisfy the oil industry
while harming the environment. He does not believe that there is
an oil crisis, as price fluctuations are cyclical and there is a
sufficient supply of crude oil.
Critics of the plan say that the president and vice president both
wish to favor their former industry, thereby repaying the abundant
financial support they received during the presidential campaign.
The other claim: The plan does not help California, which is plagued
by rolling blackouts. According to analysts, the program is fundamentally
flawed, as it does not attempt to put an end to the superfluous
use of energy. The gasoline consumption of American cars is increasing;
there is a growing number of gasoline-consuming luxury pickups,
vans, and SUVs. The Bush plan is hardly going to win the appreciation
of Europeans, since it increases the American economys demand
for raw materials and energy. It merely increases world-market prices
while placing American producers at an advantage. The most important
criticism is the fact that the consequences of the plan endanger
the global environment: The Kyoto goals [on reducing polluting carbon-dioxide
emissions] will become even more out of reach.