California energy crisis is the fuel of GOP fears

--Los Angeles Times - May 11

Posted: Monday, May 14, 2001

Wouldn't it be ironic if gas prices hit $3 or $3.50 a gallon this summer and drivers credited President George W. Bush with their sudden conservation-mindedness? What's more likely, however, is that these people -- these voters -- will blame Bush for making the family drive to Yellowstone twice as expensive as it would have been a year ago. And when they get home and the lights don't switch on, they'll be madder still.

Increasing numbers of Republican politicians are worried about just that possibility. With good cause.

If the policy the president plans to disclose next week reflects the positions he and his aides have so far embraced, it will provide virtually no near-term relief for rising fuel costs and intermittent blackouts, and no protection from the threat of worse to come.

Congressional Republicans, with an appropriately nervous eye on next year's elections, don't want to be tied to an administration already being sniped at by Democrats for its apparent indifference to the pain and disruption brought on by higher fuel costs and unpredictable energy supplies.

Gasoline has already broken $2 a gallon and, some experts warn, $3 or more a gallon is a real possibility during the peak driving season. California in particular faces inadequate refinery capacity and soaring demand. And does anyone need to be reminded that gasoline is, in some ways, the least of this state's energy concerns?

Vice President Dick Cheney, who came to office from the oil industry, sneers that conservation is not "a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy." No one who understands the complexity of the problem would suggest it is. But conservation, which simply means using energy more efficiently, is a proven way to get more out of available fuel supplies.

The administration has been silent, for example, about improving vehicle fuel efficiency, though the technology for doing so is at hand. Yet everyone must see by now the absurdity of continuing to exempt SUVs from auto mileage standards. Nor has the administration, averse as it is to regulation, shown any interest in seeking more efficient appliances, another area of great potential savings.

These are just two important steps the administration could take to diminish the crisis in the years to come. In the short term, a belated friendly nod toward individual conservation would be a good step toward putting the brakes on accelerating energy prices.

And that would be a good step toward assuaging the political fears of edgy Republicans.

Polls show that people, while willing to conserve if they see the benefit, have little understanding of where energy supplies come from and how they are distributed. They just want gasoline and electricity to be there, at reasonable prices. Congressional Republicans facing campaigns next year see this clearly. Now, if they could just open the president's eyes.

Bush is not to blame for the energy crisis. But he should be more of a part of the solution.

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