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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 20:43 GMT 21:43 UK
Bush energy plan: An oilman's vision
Sunset over power station
Lights have flickered as US power plants struggle to cope
By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby

In 1900, about 2% of the world's energy was provided by oil.

In the US today, about 2% of energy comes from renewable fuels, like wind and solar power.

That encourages conservation groups to hope that renewables could one day become as dominant as oil is today.

And they are disappointed that President Bush's national energy plan still, in their view, relies on yesterday's fuels instead of tomorrow's.

More than that, they believe he is failing to tackle one of today's real and growing problems, climate change.

Missing the problem

They see the energy plan as reinforcing Mr Bush's announcement in March that the US would not implement the international climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol.

Dr James MacKenzie is a senior associate of the World Resources Institute, based in Washington DC.

Alaskan landscape PA
There could be drilling in Alaska
He told BBC News Online: "The President has basically missed the problem, which is twofold: how to secure energy resources, especially oil, and how to tackle climate change.

"That problem the administration has ignored, although the Department of Energy estimates that we shall soon be emitting half as much greenhouse gas again as we'd be allowed to under the Kyoto Protocol."

Seth Dunn is an energy researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, another Washington environmental group.

He told BBC News Online: "There's certainly a blind spot in the plan on climate change.

"It really could have been written ten years ago. Yes, it recognises that global warming exists, but the way it says it's a serious problem without acknowledging all we know about it - it's like trying to steer a ship while you ignore an iceberg dead ahead."

Mr Dunn is concerned as well that the president's plan could weaken local measures to reduce air pollution.

It also includes proposals for increased oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), though it is far from certain that there would be enough Congressional support to ensure their approval.

Efficiency lagging

The plan says legislation should be passed to "use an estimated $1.2 bn of bid bonuses from the environmentally responsible leasing of ANWR for funding research into alternative and renewable energy resources".

Seth Dunn describes this as "a cynical linking which ties into another weak spot - the US record on energy efficiency".

The Worldwatch Institute says: "Between 1973 and 1999, US energy consumption for every unit of gross domestic product declined by 41%.

Engineer in power control room AP
California copes with power loss
"Yet as the Department of Energy's national laboratories have documented, the US could cut its energy/GDP ratio by another 10% through policies aimed at improving efficiency.

"Failure to maintain improvements in electrical efficiency contributed to California's power problems. And failure to upgrade the highly successful Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards led to recent increases in gasoline prices."

Allegations of that sort reinforce the suspicion that the US could have done more to avoid its present predicament, and that if there is an energy crisis then it is one of Americans' own making.

Conspicuous consumption

Seth Dunn says: "The situation is being misrepresented as a crisis, when in fact it's simply a series of bottlenecks.

"It's framed as an issue of supply, of trying to ensure that the US doesn't run out of oil and other fuels.

"But we'd say it's an issue of consumption. This country has 4% of the world's population, it consumes 25% of the world's energy. And we want to go further down that road?

"We should be looking at bolder steps. That's really where there is a failure of vision."

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See also:

18 May 01 | Business
Hostile reaction to Bush energy plan
17 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Science academies back Kyoto
07 May 01 | Business
US petrol prices hit all-time high
19 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Beyond Kyoto's sound and fury
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