WASHINGTON - President Bush's long-awaited energy plan proposes loosening regulations on oil and gas exploration, conservation-minded efforts like a review of gas mileage standards and a $4 billion tax credit for a new generation of highly fuel efficient cars. It also urges a reconsideration of a quarter century ban on the reprocessing of nuclear fuel.
With a declaration that energy problems threaten the nation's economy and security, the Bush plan also orders a sweeping review of public lands to determine whether more energy resources can be extracted.
"America in the year 2001 faces the most serious energy shortage since the oil embargoes of the 1970s," the report states. Without action, projected energy shortfalls in coming years "will inevitably undermine our economy, our standard of living and our national security."
The proposals are among 105 initiatives outlined in the report, according to a senior government official who briefed reporters on its contents last night. The White House released an eight-page overview of the document, which will be distributed in full today.
The official said that Bush would also issue two executive orders this week directing all federal agencies to consider the effects of all new regulations on energy production and to expedite permits for all energy projects "while remaining mindful of protecting the environment."
The overview released Wednesday night states that federal regulation of the nation's energy producers has unduly inhibited production and increased prices.
"Regulation is needed in such a complex field, but it has become overly burdensome," the report says. "Regulatory hurdles, delays in issuing permits and economic uncertainty are limiting investment in new facilities, making our energy markets more vulnerable to transmission bottlenecks, price spikes and supply disruptions."
Bush will also order the secretary of the interior, Gale Norton, an outspoken proponent of seeking new sources of energy on federal lands, to "look at any impediments" that discourage exploration for oil and gas. The report repeats Bush's commitment to explore in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - a proposal that seems unlikely to survive in Congress - but also urges a review that will include other locations in Alaska, the Rocky Mountains and the Gulf Coast.
The report also urges the revision or reinterpretation of a major clause of the Clean Air Act that requires long government review of any modifications of power plants that affect their emissions. The senior government official, who was deeply involved in the development of the plan, argued last night that the "new source reviews" conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency are a "time consuming process" and they often "discourage fuel efficiency."
The Justice Department will also be ordered to review several multimillion-dollar lawsuits brought by the Clinton administration against utilities accused of ignoring the law.
One official of an environmental group said the report was about what he had expected, and he predicted conservation organizations would be highly critical.
"This has just a lot of opportunity for mischief from the energy producers and no real solid commitments for the green components," said David G. Hawkins, senior attorney of the Natural Resources Defense Council.