Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. says the oil spill off Alaska could become the petroleum industry's Three Mile Island if steps aren't taken to assure the public that oil developers are capable of protecting the environment.

Lujan's remarks to an oil and gas industry conference Monday suggested the massive spill last month into Prince William Sound off Alaska by the tanker Exxon Valdez could have long-lasting effects on the petroleum industry if some public damage control is not undertaken."It takes a long, long time to recover from these things," said Lujan, comparing the Exxon Valdez spill to the accident a decade ago at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania. The nuclear industry has yet to recover from that accident.

"If the image of an uncareful and uncaring industry prevails among the U.S. public, then we can kiss goodbye the domestic oil and gas development in (the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), offshore and in the public lands," Lujan told a conference of the National Ocean Industries Association.

Lujan, nevertheless, emphasized that the Bush administration continues to support "environmentally sound" oil development in the arctic refuge and declared, "Unless we pursue a coordinated policy to develop this country's domestic energy sources, including offshore oil and gas, every American will pay dearly for our failure."

President Bush generally has supported offshore drilling, but in one of his first steps as president ordered a review into the proposed sale of oil leases involving two areas off the California coast and one off the Everglades in Florida.

Lujan said a key lesson learned from the accident is that cleanup equipment and preparedness for such a disaster must be improved.