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Thursday, 17 May, 2001, 21:52 GMT 22:52 UK
Energy tops Bush agenda
High tension power lines and wind turbines in California
Americans want more energy but also worry about clean air
By Steve Evans in New York

There is no doubt the big item at the top of the Bush agenda is energy and how to deliver more of it cheaply.

Power cuts in California, plus the prospect of Americans paying what is to them the outrageously high price of $3 a gallon to fuel their cars, makes it an issue which plays in the streets and bars and offices.


Estimates indicate that over the next 20 years, US oil consumption will increase by 33%, natural gas consumption will increase by well over 50% and demand for electricity will rise by 45%

National Energy Report
The conclusions drawn by the task force headed by Vice-President Dick Cheney do little to address these problems; nor could they because increasing the supply of power takes years while the demands are raw and immediate.

But the tone of the review has changed because of domestic politics in the here and now.

A month ago, the message was that Americans could not conserve their way out of the crisis.

But the report says, "Americans share the goal of energy conservation. The best way of meeting this goal is to increase energy efficiency by applying new technology - raising productivity, reducing waste and trimming costs".

Advances in technology

The divide between the Bush administration and its green critics often turns on how much reliance can be placed on advances in technology, such as delivering cleaner cars or coal-fired power stations.

And to what degree much more interventionist, painful measures to control emissions are needed.

National Energy Policy
The report advocates more fossil fuel use

The administration concludes clearly that the market knows best and that checking demand will not be the prime means of solving the long-term problems.

The review says estimates indicate that over the next 20 years, US oil consumption will increase by 33%, natural gas consumption will increase by well over 50% and demand for electricity will rise by 45%.

"If America's energy production grows at the same rate as it did in the 1990s, we will face an ever-increasing gap."

Increasing supply

The Bush administration envisions filling that gap partly through conservation, but more through increasing supply by giving the oil companies access to the Arctic wildlife reserve and by easing the rules on re-licensing existing nuclear plants and building new ones.

The review notes that "the US has enough coal to last for 250 years. Yet very few coal-powered electric plants are now under construction".


If America's energy production grows at the same rate as it did in the 1990s, we will face an ever-increasing gap

National Energy Policy

The administration wants to see that change, particularly as American coal is very easy to dig - it lies on the surface and can be scooped up cheaply by diggers.

One of the problems for the United States is that its vastness means it does not have the grids to transfer energy, whether as electricity or gas or oil, from areas with high supply to areas in great need.

To that end, the National Energy Plan envisions grids being built - 61,142km (38,000 miles) of new gas pipeline and 410,295km (255,000 miles) of new power cables.

Huge task

It is, then, a huge technical and economic task to satisfy the increasing demands of a people which sees cheap energy as a right, but also increasingly worries about clean air.

President Bush
Critics say the Bush administration is peopled by oil men
It is also a huge political task.

Critics of the new administration say that it is peopled by oil men from the president and vice president down, so a failure to tackle America's immediate problems shows an excessive closeness to the industry.

And solving the perennial energy crisis has defeated previous administrations.

Presidents Carter and Nixon likened the task to going to war.

Mr Carter even had solar panels fitted to the roof of the White House.

They were removed by President Reagan and now a new president talks about a new energy crisis.

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See also:

17 May 01 | Business
Bush unveils energy plan
22 Apr 01 | Americas
EU presses on with Kyoto
30 Mar 01 | Americas
Kyoto: Why did the US pull out?
29 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Anger at US climate retreat
26 Apr 01 | Americas
US debates nuclear expansion
15 May 01 | Americas
US attraction to nuclear power
09 May 01 | Americas
Clash over Arctic reserves
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