A national energy policy aimed at reducing U.S. dependence on imported oil has drawn support from energy industry lobbyists, blasts from environmentalists and a mixed reaction from Congress.
"This strategy strikes a delicate balance," President Bush said in introducing the strategy Wednesday at a White House briefing. It is the first major U.S. oil plan since 1979.Bush said the policy, which focuses on production rather than conservation as advocated by environmental groups, seeks "to diversify sources of energy supply." He said the United States is a long way from achieving self-sufficiency in supply.
His policy rules out more radical measures such as higher fuel taxes or stiff tariffs on imported oil.
Bush said he knew in advance the strategy would attract critics, but said they could not produce as balanced an approach to the problem.
Environmentalists decried the emphasis on production. They have long preached conservation as the best way to curb the U.S. appetite for oil.
Bush, a former oil man, would allow drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the second largest U.S. nature preserve, fiercely defended by major environmentalists.
The American Petroleum Institute lauded Bush for this move, saying, "This area is considered by many to be the best onshore prospect in North America for finding substantial amounts of oil."
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat allied with environmentalists, said Alaska drilling was "a quick fix" that would provide the United States with at most a year's supply of oil at great risk to the pristine wilderness.
The chairman of the influential House subcommittee on energy said the administration plan had shortcomings but was a good basis for developing a new national energy program.
In less than a week, the Energy Department is expected to tell Congress how it will accomplish the plan's main goal of pumping an extra 3.8 million barrels of oil a day from offshore oil fields by the year 2010.
On Thursday, Congress was reviewing the plan in a Senate Energy Committee hearing with Energy Secretary James Watkins.
Watkins reportedly pushed for more aggressive federal efforts to improve energy efficiency, a goal he said received strong public support in the department's public hearings on the energy strategy.
However, White House officials rejected most of Watkins' recommendations on the grounds that they would hurt economic growth.
Highlights of energy strategy\ - Expand environmentally "responsible" domestic oil production, including along coastal waters and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northern Alaska.
- Ease regulations to speed the construction of nuclear power plants and waste disposal sites to "revitalize" the nuclear energy option.
- Speed the construction of natural gas pipelines by removing regulatory barriers and make natural gas more widely competitive with oil and other energy sources.
- Overhaul regulation of the electric utility industry to increase competition for wholesale power and promote more widespread use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.
- Require use of "cost-effective energy efficiency standards" in the construction of new buildings subsidized by federal funds or federally insured mortgages; also improve energy efficiency labeling for lights.
- Encourage lenders to consider fuel efficiency ratings when approving home mortgages.