Vice-President Dick Cheney has already recently given a preview of the new plan, in which he called for more nuclear power plants, dismissed the possible contribution of renewable energy and affirmed continued reliance on coal and oil (see related story), and the document, released on 17 May, remains true to Cheney’s hints: continuing reliance on fossil fuels, with new domestic production, a greater role for nuclear power and no disincentives for the high-energy lifestyle of the US population, which are double that of most Europeans’.

However, the president and his vice say they are convinced by the sustainability of the plan. “America must have an energy policy that plans for the future, but meets the needs of today,” commented President Bush. “I believe we can develop our natural resources and protect the environment”. “We have developed a national energy policy designed to help bring together business, government, local communities and citizens to promote dependable, affordable and environmentally sound energy for the future,” commented Cheney. “To achieve a 21st century quality of life, we must modernise conservation, modernise our infrastructure, increase our energy supplies, including renewables, accelerate the protection and improvement of our environment, and increase our energy security.”

Outlining his much-anticipated plan at a press event in Minnesota, Mr Bush claimed that it was possible to dramatically increase oil drilling and coal mining without serious damage to the environment, and restated his intention to open up the Arctic wildlife refuge in Alaska to oil and gas exploration (see related story). “If we fail to act, Americans will face more and more widespread blackouts,” he said. “If we fail to act, our country will become more reliant on foreign crude oil, putting our national energy security into the hands of foreign nations, some of whom do not share our interests. And if we fail to act, our environment will suffer, as government officials struggle to prevent blackouts in the only way possible, by calling on more polluting emergency backup generators, and by running less efficient, old power plants too long and too hard.”

The plan lists more than one hundred energy-related recommendations, envisages the need for up to 1,900 new power plants over the next 20 years, more than one a week, and justifies drilling in Alaska to meet the nation’s energy needs. “Advanced new technologies allows entrepreneurs and risk-takers to find oil, and to extract it in ways that leave nature undisturbed,” Bush said. “Where oil is found underneath sensitive landscapes, rigs can stand miles away from the oil field and tap a reservoir at an angle. In Arctic sites like ANWR, we can build roads of ice that literally melt away when summer comes, and the drilling then stops to protect wildlife.” The refuge could produce up to 600,000 barrels of oil a day, he said, as much as the US now buys from Iraq, an example of how new oil exploration would reduce the country’s dependence on unfriendly foreign powers.

In order to boost use of other fossil fuels, the plan funds research into new, clean coal technologies and calls on Congress to enact strict new multi-pollutant legislation, to reduce emissions from electric power plants, but will also relax and streamline regulations governing coal mining. “I will also enable more gas pipelines to be constructed, where strict planning legislation has been a major barrier to development of the sector”, the president said, clearing the way for 38,000 miles of new natural gas pipelines. Under the plan, the government will also be given the power to requisition land for the construction of power transmission cables. On conservation, manufacturers will be required to build more energy-efficient appliances and a review to remove the obstacles that prevent business from investing in energy-efficient technologies will be conducted.

Bush also called on America to expand “a clean and unlimited source of energy” – nuclear power – by renewing and expanding existing nuclear facilities, and using the “best science to move expeditiously to find a safe and permanent repository for nuclear waste”.

The plan earmarks $10bn in tax credits to reward homeowners who invest in solar homes and utilities that invest in renewables, and also removes impediments to the development of hydro-electricity and “proposes incentives” to buy new cars that run on alternative fuels. It also supports research into fuel cells, but proposes no penalties to high consumption vehicles such as SUV’s.

However, criticism of many parts of the plan has been widespread, with environmentalists, clean energy supporters and Democrats enraged. One of the main reasons cited for such a drastic plan is President Bush’s insistence that that the nation faces an energy crisis comparable with the oil shocks of the 1970s, with energy consumption projected to increase by a third over the next two decades, resulting in the kind of shortages seen in California (see related story). “No energy crisis exists now that equates in any way with those we faced in 1973 and 1979,” former president Jimmy Carter wrote in the Washington Post. “World supplies are adequate and reasonably stable, price fluctuations are cyclical, reserves are plentiful and automobiles aren’t waiting in line at service stations.”

“It’s very unfortunate, we now have an administration that is more concerned about big oil companies making record profits than worrying about average American working families and their bottom-line budget,” the Democrat’s national chairman, Terry McAuliffe said.

“The energy plan President Bush unveiled won’t work, because it makes the wrong choices,” commented the NGO Sierra Club’s Executive Director, Carl Pope. “We can’t drill, dig and destroy our way to energy

independence. Instead, Americans want a balanced approach that gives us

quicker, cleaner, cheaper, safer solutions like energy-efficient

technologies, renewable power like solar and wind, and responsible

additions to supply.”

Another of the numerous NGOs to protest at the plan was Greenpeace, which dumped five tons of coal and fake oil and nuclear waste drums outside Vice President Cheney’s residence. “Mr. Bush and Cheney have released less of a plan and more of a scam because it enriches the oil, coal and nuclear industries while failing to solve our energy problems,” the group said. “If they are so enamoured with dirty power, they can have it, because the American people don’t want it. Global warming is the by-product of decades of irresponsible coal and oil use. Mr. Bush’s energy scam marks the third strike against him on convincing the world he takes global warming seriously.”

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