When a congressional conference committee working on a national energy bill soon resumes its work, it will do so against a backdrop of complaints that it is using the recent blackout in the northeastern United States to gain approval of controversial provisions. A House provision to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge tops the list and again has environmental groups in a lather.
There is no connection, drilling opponents argue, between the failure of the power grid and the effort to draw oil and gas from ANWR's coastal plain.
But there is.
This nation has been without a new and broad energy policy for more than 10 years. President Bush's election to office brought with it his desire to form a comprehensive energy plan, one that he presented in May 2001 and whose many aspects included a call for oil and gas drilling in ANWR and an upgrading of the national power grid to increase reliability. Opponents of ANWR drilling say that the needed upgrades to the power grid should be considered separate of the energy bill. Where is the sense in that? The nation needs a unified plan, one where each piece relates to the other and is part of a single vision. To approve energy legislation piecemeal is to react to crises, not to prevent them. Calling for separate legislation to upgrade the transmission grid is a defensive measure crafted by those fearful that, at last, the nation might have the supply-side energy plan it sorely needs to avoid crises whether from a neglected power grid or over-reliance on oil imports.
If any one element of the president's energy plan can push the greater package through Congress, that is appropriate. Therefore, if the blackout and the subsequent calls for an improved grid lend momentum to resolution of the energy bill and adoption of an ANWR drilling provision, the nation will be better for it.
The conference committee plans to have an energy bill ready for both houses of Congress by the end of September. Perhaps the blackout will prove to have brightened our future.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
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