ST. PAUL, Minnesota -- President Bush called for expanding U.S. coal, oil and nuclear power production and offered conservation incentives on Thursday to beat back high gas prices, blackouts and ''a darker future.''
With the United States facing ''the most serious energy shortage since the oil embargoes of the 1970s,'' Bush, a Republican and a former Texas oilman, unveiled a strategy weighted toward increasing supply rather than decreasing demand, immediately sparking a political firestorm likely to rage for months.
Democrats and environmentalists lined up to oppose the policy developed under the direction of Vice President Dick Cheney, a former oil company executive, as a boon to Bush's industry allies, a threat to the nation's air, land and water, and an inadequate answer to immediate U.S. energy problems.
''If we fail to act, we could face a darker future, a future that is unfortunately being previewed in rising prices at the gas pump and rolling blackouts in California,'' Bush said in unveiling the 163-page plan and its 105 recommendations.
The natural gas, electric, nuclear and coal industries embraced the report. So did the oil interests, although the American Petroleum Institute said it was disappointed the White House task force did not specifically recommend easing investment and trade sanctions for U.S. oil firms to develop supplies in Iran and Libya.
Bush's plea for a ''new tone'' in the debate and an end to what he called the yelling, went largely unheeded.
LUMPS OF COAL FOR CHENEY
The environmental group Greenpeace dumped a mound of coal and oil barrels outside Cheney's official residence in Washington, Democratic Sen. Harry Reid grumbled that GOP -- the Republican Party's nickname -- now stood for Gas, Oil and Plutonium, and Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe accused Bush of telling California to ''drop dead.''
Bush said his plan would ''expand and diversify'' U.S. energy supplies. ''Conservation doesn't have to mean doing without,'' he said. ''Thanks to new technology, it can mean doing better and smarter and cheaper.''
The plan would:
-- Increase energy production by spurring the building of new nuclear power plants, opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling and streamlining rules governing power plant and refinery expansions.
-- End bottlenecks in electricity transmission between regions of the country and build more pipelines to carry oil and natural gas.
-- Encourage conservation by providing $10 billion in tax breaks, including $4 billion in tax credits for the purchase of fuel-efficient ''hybrid'' vehicles and a 15 percent tax credit for installing solar panels on houses. Tax credits or financial aid would also encourage alternative fuels and weatherization.
The plan includes no measures to specifically avert summer blackouts in California or combat record high gasoline prices.
California's Democratic Gov. Gray Davis faulted Bush for failing to provide any immediate relief saying his was the only state that had faced blackouts and ''astronomical electricity prices.''
''We are literally in a war with energy companies who are price gouging us. Many of those companies are in Texas,'' Davis said. ''With all due respect, Mr. President, Californians want to know whether you're going to be on their side.''
House of Representatives minority leader, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri called Bush's report ''slick,'' adding: ''It's full of pretty colored pictures. It really looks like the Exxon Mobil annual report and maybe that's really what it is.''
He said Bush had made ''the wrong choices for America and for the American people'' by focusing on drilling and production rather than conservation.
But Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, while predicting Bush's proposal to drill in ANWR had no chance of winning Senate approval, said Democrats were willing to take a look at many of the other proposals to address the nation's energy problems.
Amid concerns that Americans use too much gasoline, the report called for a new efficiency standards for vehicles.
It recommended Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman review fuel formula regulations and consider rolling back a regulation requiring state-of-the-art pollution controls on upgraded power plants and refineries.
The plan seeks $2 billion over 10 years to develop technology to burn coal, which provides 52 percent of U.S. electricity, with less pollution.
On nuclear energy, in addition to streamlining the licensing of new plants, the plan would provide $1.5 billion in tax incentives to facilitate the sale of nuclear plants.
It recommends continued study of a deep underground repository for storing nuclear waste and a study of whether to revive the idea of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel.
On the international side, the plan says energy security should be a priority of U.S. foreign policy and recommends a review of sanctions affecting oil producers.
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