The Bush administration is bracing for a potential energy crisis in the wake of the latest OPEC oil production cuts and renewed power blackouts in California that some say may spread to other regions later in the year.
President George W. Bush met late Monday with his energy task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, saying the situation highlights the need for a comprehensive energy policy.
"One thing is for certain: there are no short-term fixes ... the solution for our energy shortage requires long-term thinking and a plan that we'll implement, that'll take time to bring to fruition," Bush said.
"And it not only includes good conservation, but as well exploration for oil and gas and coal, and development of energy sources that exist within our 50 states."
Bush said the current high prices in the United States for gasoline and other fuels were not the result of moves by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, but a shortage of production and refining capacity in the nation.
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the country is faced with "the most serious energy shortage" since the 1973 Arab oil embargo.
"There is strong evidence that the latest (energy) crisis is already having a negative effect" on the US economy, Abraham said. "For the past eight years, Washington sat on the sidelines as our nation's energy needs mounted.
During the 1990s, the Clinton administration employed a policy of taxing demand, limiting supply, and ignoring the rapidly expanding needs of the future."
He said the Bush administration is preparing to respond to these challenges, but that it has to be candid about the magnitude of the problem.
The energy secretary said the United States is now producing 39 percent less oil than it did in 1970, and that this widening gap makes the country increasingly dependent on foreign imports.
"While this administration does not agree with OPEC's decision, that decision demonstrates the importance of increasing America's production of oil," Abraham said.
The latest comments came as rolling blackouts hit California for the first time in a month, with officials in the state predicting more power shortages in the coming months.
Abraham said he saw the power problem expanding beyond California, citing shortages predicted for New York in the coming months as well as possible "low capacity margins threatening electricity reliability in the Midwest, Southeast and Northern Plains states and strained refinery capacity in the Midwest."
Some argue however that administration officials are highlighting the problems to press for their proposals to drill for oil on federal lands, including Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and expand burning of coal, measures strongly opposed by environmental groups.
"They've moved from compassionate conservatism to catastrophic conservatism, relying on hyperbole and scare tactics to make their point," said Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters.
"Clearly the California situation is being distorted, and I think it's sad when you take a serious issue that really impacts citizens and you use it as an excuse to justify a policy agenda that's driving by special interest."
Mike Fitzpatrick, an energy analyst at Fimat USA, said he does not see an immediate power crisis affecting places such as New York.
"Firstly, they don't use natural gas here to the extent they do in California," he said. "Secondly, supplies are more plentiful here for the alternative energy that we use beside the natural gas."—AFP.
©--Agence France Presse 2001.
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)