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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Energy Plan

Air Date: Week of

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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The Bush administration has developed a long-term plan to supply the nation's energy needs. And supply is the key word. Most of the administration's proposals focus on boosting production of fossil fuels and nuclear power, with little attention to curbing consumption. Vice President Dick Cheney says, and I quote, "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy." Mr. Cheney has been chairing the White House Task Force on Energy. Recently, he spoke about the committee's work with Time Magazine reporter Michael Weisskopf, who joins us now. Welcome, Michael.

WEISSKOPF: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Tell me, who are the winners? Who are the big winners and the big losers in this energy plan?

WEISSKOPF: Everyone comes out a winner, Steve. Oil and gas will be encouraged to drill in once-sacrosanct federal lands, including the Alaskan Refuge. The nuclear industry will receive incentives, probably in the form of more government research money to look for ways of disposing of nuclear waste, which has been one big impediment to the use of nuclear energy. The coal industry will receive other breaks, including easing of environmental regulations on modified plants. The utilities have been reluctant to modify because, in using coal to burn, they've had to put on expensive state-of-the-art equipment.

CURWOOD: What's powering this push for coal?

WEISSKOPF: A recognition that we will need at least 1,300 new power plants over the next 20 years. That's 65 a year. A sense that natural gas supplies are limited, oil supplies are limited by dint of their importation from overseas. And that coal is there. We are the Saudi Arabia of coal reserves. We have a 250-year supply there. And the administration realizes it needs to be tapped. At the same time, of all the other fuels, coal has a lot of political energy. It is underlying our heartland states and the Southeast, places that are considered battleground states in any kind of presidential election, and places that President Bush squeaked past or lost narrowly. And so, this is sort of a coming out party, or coming back party, by coal. Also, I should mention that the mining industry dug deep for President Bush in the last election in terms of campaign contributions.

CURWOOD: You say everyone's a winner in this plan. But how do environmentalists feel about this?

WEISSKOPF: Environmentalists will probably believe that the Earth comes out the loser in this, in the sense that there's been too much of an emphasis on greater energy production, not enough on smarter ways of cutting back. Unlike past inter-agency meetings of this sort, even in the first Bush administration, when there was lots of battle being done by environmental forces, these are pretty amicable. People inside have said that there is a remarkable ease at reaching consensus. They move swiftly through an agenda. The meetings usually last about an hour.

CURWOOD: Some might say that the reason the meetings have been so amicable is that it's pretty much pro-energy extraction industry at the table. How fair is that analysis?

WEISSKOPF: It is to some extent. We lightheartedly call it the Fossil Fuel Club, because some of its primary members have come from that industry or have had lots of dealings with them. Abraham, for instance, the Energy Secretary, was a favorite of the energy industry when he was a senator. Dick Cheney and the Commerce Secretary, Don Evans, come from the oil industry. These are men who have dealt with the energy sector for a long time. But you also have in there the Interior Secretary and the EPA Administrator, both of whom are supposed to be representing environmental concerns. And so, there will be conservation measures. However, the belief of the task force that any gain will be marginal, the only way to deal with this effectively is by throwing more energy at the matter.

CURWOOD: Michael Weisskopf writes for Time Magazine and joined us from the NPR studios in Washington. Thanks for taking this time with us.

WEISSKOPF: Pleasure.



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