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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 18, 2001

Energy policy mustn't ignore real alternatives

Given the background of the president, the vice president and so many others in the new Bush administration, it is tough to see his new energy policy as being about anything other than oil, oil and more oil.

And clearly, that is a primary focus of the plan President Bush announced yesterday. Regulations on oil and gas exploration have been considerably loosened and a policy of increased domestic production of fossil fuel has been put firmly into place.

But the energy plan is far from being a ham-handed give-away to the barons of the Oil Patch. Rather, it is a complex and clever approach to energy policy that seeks to touch all bases while preserving the core of our longstanding drill-and-burn approach to energy.

The danger in this plan is that the substantial promises about alternative energy production and conservation will gradually be lost, while the central mission of increasing domestic production of oil, gas and coal will take on even greater prominence.

This would be a disaster. Sooner or later, this nation will have to shift to other forms of renewable, less-polluting energy. That day will come whether we are ready for it or not.

Thus it is crucial that the short-term push to ramp up oil and gas not overwhelm the long-term imperative of a sustainable alternative energy policy.

But as this policy has been presented, that scenario is entirely possible. The new Bush budget has cut research and development in renewable energy by 37 percent and energy efficiency/conservation programs by 30 percent. At the same time, the energy plan eases regulatory restrictions on oil and gas exploration and development. It supports the idea of energy exploration and development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Sierra Club, which clearly has its own ax to grind, makes an interesting point about conservation vs. development of more energy sources.

Raising the miles-per-gallon standard for cars, light trucks and sports utility vehicles to 40 mpg, it said, would save as much oil as would be produced from the Wildlife Refuge, offshore California drilling and Persian Gulf imports combined.

Even if that is hyperbole, it makes the point that conservation and alternative energy is a powerful response to the idea that we must continue along the same old path.

No doubt there is more money to be made in the short term by a policy that simply throws open the doors to increased oil, gas and coal production. But in the long term, it is a costly policy that will force all Americans to pay.