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USA: Cheney Vows to Stick With Fossil Fuels

by Cat LazaroffEnvironment News Service
May 1st, 2001

TORONTO, Ontario, Canada -- The United States will focus on increased domestic production of oil and greater use of coal for electricity generation in a new national energy strategy to be announced in a few weeks, Vice President Richard Cheney said Monday. The new policy will not emphasize energy conservation, Cheney said in a speech to the Annual Meeting of the Associated Press in Toronto.

Cheney said the new energy policy will be comprehensive in approach and long term in outlook, and will include none of the "usual quick fixes" such as price controls, tapping strategic reserves and creating new federal agencies.

"America's reliance on energy, and fossil fuels in particular, has lately taken on an urgency not felt since the late 1970s," said the vice president, who heads a task force appointed by President George W. Bush that will recommend the new energy strategy later this month.

Renewable energy resources, including biomass, geothermal, wind and solar energy, currently meet about two percent of the nation's energy needs, and can be expected to meet only about six percent of the nation's needs in 20 years, Cheney warned.

"Whatever our hopes for developing alternative sources and for conserving energy, the reality is that fossil fuels supply virtually a hundred percent of our transportation needs, and an overwhelming share of our electricity requirements," Cheney said. "For years down the road, this will continue to be true."

Cheney, who headed the oil services company Halliburton Inc. before joining Bush's presidential bid, said the United States must increase the domestic production of oil from known sources and lay more natural gas pipelines - at least 38,000 miles (60,800 kilometers) more. The vice president said that over the next 20 years, the nation must build 1,300 to 1,600 new power plants, and repair, upgrade and expand electricity transmission grids.

Coal is still the most plentiful source of affordable energy in the United States, Cheney added, saying efforts must be taken to improve so called "clean coal" technology to soften its impact on the environment. Cheney also called for greater use of nuclear power, which he called a safe, clean and very plentiful energy source, and a form of technology "that causes zero emissions of greenhouse gases."

In developing new domestic energy resources, the Bush administration "will insist on protecting and enhancing the environment, showing consideration for the air and natural lands and watersheds of our country," Cheney said.

"This will require overcoming what is for some a cherished myth - that energy production and the environment must always involve competing values," he added. "We can explore for energy, we can produce energy and use it, and we can do so with a decent regard for the natural environment."

Cheney noted specifically that the Bush administration believes that oil drilling can be handled safely in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, one of the cornerstones of Bush's plan to open more public lands to energy exploration.

"ANWR covers 19 million acres (7.6 million hectares)," Cheney noted. "The amount of land affected by oil production would be 2,000 acres (800 hectares). ... The notion that somehow developing the resources in ANWR requires a vast despoiling of the environment is probably false," he argued.

Another facet of the nation's new energy policy will be more efficient use of existing resources, through new technologies that reduce energy use and boost fuel efficiency.

"New technologies are proving that we can save energy without sacrificing our standard of living. And we're going to encourage it in every way possible," Cheney said.

"In doing all these things, however, we must be clear about our purposes. The aim here is efficiency, not austerity," Cheney added. "We all remember the energy crisis of the 1970s, when people in positions of responsibility complained that Americans just used too much energy."

There is no way to "simply conserve or ration our way out of the situation we're in," Cheney said, scoffing at suggestions that the federal government institute new rules to cut back on energy consumption.

"To speak exclusively of conservation is to duck the tough issues," he said. "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy. Our strategy will recognize that the present crisis does not represent a failing of the American people."

In fact, President Bush's proposed fiscal year 2002 budget for the Department of Energy would slash funding for energy efficiency research and development by $180 million, or 29 percent.

Environmentalists said the vice president's speech offered misguided arguments about U.S. energy policy. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) called Cheney's strategy "the pollution solution."

"The fact is we can meet our energy needs - and save consumers money - without despoiling pristine wilderness areas or rolling back environmental protections," said David Doniger, an NRDC senior attorney and former head of the Environmental Protection Agency's office on climate change.

In a recent report, for example, NRDC argued that increasing average fuel economy for cars and light trucks to 39 miles per gallon would save at least 15 times more oil that could be economically recovered from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain over the projected 50 year lifespan of the oil fields there. The report is available at: http://www.nrdc.org

Today, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released a new report finding that increasing the fuel efficiency of new cars and light trucks by five percent a year would cut U.S. oil use by 1.5 million barrels per day within a decade.

"Simply improving vehicle fuel economy five percent a year will do more to enhance U.S. energy security than all the oil drilling the Bush Administration is going to call for in its forthcoming plan," said study author Howard Geller, former executive director of ACEEE. "Unfortunately, judging by Vice President Cheney's speech yesterday, the Administration is not properly valuing the contribution that energy efficiency can make."

The ACEEE study notes that U.S. oil imports more than doubled during the past 15 years and oil imports now exceed domestic oil production. The U.S. possesses just two percent of world oil reserves, and this percentage is dropping.

"As more and more gas guzzling cars, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and pickups hit the road, our oil imports from the Persian Gulf are reaching record levels," Geller said. "A sensible energy policy would attack the main cause of our growing import dependence - namely by declaring war on these gas guzzlers."

The ACEEE study is available at: http://aceee.org/pubs/e011.pdf

Today, four Senators - Democrats Dianne Feinstein of California and Charles Schumer of New York, and Maine Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins - introduced legislation that would raise the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard for SUVs, pickups and minivans from the current low of 20.7 miles per gallon (mpg) to 27.5 mpg.

"At a time of rising gasoline and energy prices, increasing fuel efficiency is the single most effective action we can take to limit our reliance on foreign oil, save consumers at the pump, and reduce global warming," Senator Feinstein said. "Specifically, this bill could save one million barrels of oil a day, reduce oil imports by 10 percent, and prevent 240 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere."

"The biggest single step to reducing our oil addiction and to curbing global warming is to raise fuel economy standards," added Ann Mesnikoff, Washington, DC representative of the Sierra Club. "This is an enormous step in the right direction for America's energy future."





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