Long before President Bush unveiled his new energy policy Wednesday, the environmentalists started sniping at it.

Sadly, both the White House and its critics are off the mark. Neither of their approaches, by itself, would do enough to halt the nation's growing dependence on foreign energy. What's needed is a better balance between conservation and stepped-up exploitation of energy resources than has been offered so far.In essence, the proposed new energy strategy favors increasing oil drilling, nuclear power and alternative fuels while avoiding major new conservation requirements.

The key elements of the long-awaited plan include opening new oil fields in Alaska and off the U.S. coastline, speeding federal licensing of nuclear power plants, deregulating natural gas and oil pipelines, and expanding the use of cleaner-burning alternative fuels by cars.

The critics of the plan are off base with their usual paranoia about the dangers of nuclear powers and the environmental damage from oil drilling in wilderness and coastal areas. They persistently ignore the fact that the few deaths in nuclear power plants involved accidents that had nothing to do with radiation. Likewise, it's hard to take seriously their warnings about environmental damage when their dire predictions about the consequences of the trans-Alaska gas pipeline turned out to be almost pure fiction.

But President Bush hasn't done enough homework, either. He still insists that higher federal fuel economy standards for cars would stifle economic growth by increasing costs for both industry and consumers. But Chrysler already has achieved such higher fuel standards without inflicting too much pain. So has the entire automotive industry in Japan.

The president's stated desire to encourage, rather than require, conservation also ignores Americans' long history of stinting on the consumption of energy oil during an emergency, then going back to gas-guzzling after the crisis is over.

Both sides in the dispute over a national energy policy can be faulted for ignoring the great potential for oil shale in meeting America's energy needs. Yet there's more oil in the shale deposits of Utah, Colorado and Wyoming than there is in the known petroleum reserves of the entire Arab world.

In any case, the energy strategy outlined Wednesday by the White House is only a wish list. Congress will have the last word. As the lawmakers consider a variety of energy-related measures, they should keep a few key facts firmly in mind.

One of those facts is that the United States has 3 per cent of the world's petroleum reserves and produces about 13 per cent of all the oil used. Yet Americans consume about 27 per cent of all the crude oil produced in the world.

These figures point to the unmistakable need to couple increased conservation with increased production if this nation is ever to avoid continued shocks to its economy from wars and embargoes in the always-volatile Middle East.