President Bush's National Energy Strategy will ask Congress to allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, deregulate oil and natural gas pipelines and speed the licensing of nuclear power plants, administration documents showed Saturday.
The administration's plan, as outlined by draft legislation circulating for last-minute comment within the administration, focuses heavily on boosting energy production while proposing only modest conservation measures.The balance between increased production and enhanced energy efficiencey has been the subject of intense controversy within the administration, with White House officials reportedly squelching conservation proposals by Energy Department officials.
Among the few conservation initiatives in the draft legislation are provisions to encourage more energy-efficient lighting technology and home appliances. The bill also would establish a Federal Energy Efficiency Fund to provide loans to federal government agencies for conservation projects.
Unlike energy legislation recently introduced in the House and Senate, the administration bill does not require any improvement in car fuel efficiency above the current federal requirement that each automaker's fleet average 27.5 miles per gallon.
Instead, it proposes to change federal law to allow automakers greater leeway to meet their fuel economy obligations by manufacturing more vehicles that can run on natural gas or alcohol fuels.
Environmentalists criticized that proposal as an attempt to open a loophole in the fuel economy law, which White House officials have attacked as an economically unsound intervention in the free market.
Proponents of tougher fuel economy standards say the nation cannot reduce its dependence on foreign oil without addressing automobiles, which represent the largest single U.S. use of petroleum.
Much of the draft legislation, entitled the National Energy Strategy Act, is devoted to authorizing the sale of federal oil and gas leases to oil companies who want to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Alaska's North Slope, home to caribou, bears, birds and other animals.
Under the bill, the secretary of Interior could limit oil exploration and drilling to ensure it caused "no significant adverse effect" on wildlife or the environment.
The bill also requires oil companies to repair environmental damage resulting from their activities and sets up a $50 million federal fund to be tapped if a company fails to meet that responsibility. The fund would be funded by a 5 cents per barrel tax on oil.
The administration's plan drew immediate and intense criticism from environmentalists, who said White House officials ignored the message delivered by the public in 18 months of public hearings by the Energy Department to develop the National Energy Strategy.