ST. PAUL, Minn. - Warning of a "darker future" if America fails to act, President Bush unveiled yesterday his long-awaited energy plan, which calls for some conservation but stresses that oil and gas supplies must be boosted, even if that means easing environmental protections.
"We must work to build a new harmony between our energy needs and our environmental concerns," Bush said in a speech here as his energy task force issued a 163-page report. "They are dual aspects of a single purpose - to live well and wisely upon the Earth."
The president called for incentives to experiment with cleaner, renewable sources of energy, such as solar and wind power, and to save energy. He proposed, for example, a tax credit for consumers who use a new generation of fuel-efficient cars, an idea supported by Al Gore in the election last year, which Bush had ridiculed.
But the reality, Bush said, is that bedrock fossil fuels remain the most reliable energy sources. That, he said, is why he proposes to relax environmental rules to make it easier for companies to drill for oil and gas, build power plants, burn coal and expand the use of nuclear power - ideas that sparked outcries from environmentalists and Democrats.
A failure to take action, Bush said, could mean a future "that is unfortunately being previewed in rising prices at the gas pumps and rolling blackouts in California."
Yet with the summer driving season near, Bush's energy plan proposes no short-term relief for Americans facing high gasoline prices or electricity rates.
"Unfortunately," the report says, "there are no short-term solutions to long-term neglect."
As Bush spoke before business leaders in St. Paul, the White House released the "National Energy Policy," with 105 recommendations - only one-fifth of which require congressional approval. With energy emerging as a leading public concern, Bush's proposals are likely to touch off a spirited debate about how to address energy shortages and rising costs for gasoline and electricity.
The same questions confronted policy-makers during the oil shocks of the 1970s and posed a serious problem for President Jimmy Carter: whether production should take priority over conservation and what role government should have in determining energy prices.
Environmental groups raised numerous objections, saying Bush's call to ease regulations and streamline the permit process for energy producers could threaten wildlife preserves, federal lands and rivers. Democrats, who see in the plan their best chance to paint Bush, a former oilman, as beholden to the energy industry, said it was tipped far too heavily toward business and was unlikely to help consumers.
"It's slick," said Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, the House Democratic leader. "It's full of pretty colored pictures. It really looks like the Exxon-Mobil annual report. And maybe that's really what it is."
Gephardt added: "It's heavily focused on production of new oil and gas. It calls for, as one of its major parts, drilling in environmentally sensitive areas in national monuments, in national parks."
As he arrived in Minnesota yesterday, Bush, whose presidential campaign was heavily backed by the energy industry, was greeted by a boisterous throng carrying placards with such messages as "Minnesota Loves Bush," "Don't Drill the Arctic" and "Power for People, not Profit."
The White House hopes to play up portions of the plan that are palatable even to Democrats and environmental advocates, while playing down its push to ease curbs on oil and gas development on public lands, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
For example, as he delivered remarks for 24 minutes, Bush stood in front of a banner with such words as "technology, efficiency, conservation, security," all visible to TV viewers.
For a quick photo opportunity before his speech, Bush visited a company in St. Paul that uses research in renewable energy sources, combining such conventional fuels as coal and natural gas with renewable biological waste to produce low-cost power. Bush then flew to Iowa, where he toured another company that researches renewable energy.
And the president led off his speech not by discussing oil or coal, but by praising efficiency and conservation. He said his plan offered incentives to manufacturers to build energy-efficient appliances. He said outdated buildings and factories should be upgraded or replaced so they consume less energy and do not pollute as much.
"Conservation does not mean doing without," Bush said. "Thanks to new technology, it can mean doing better and smarter and cheaper."
House Democrats put forth their own energy plan this week, one that relies more on conservation and also proposes some short-term steps, including price controls in the West. California's Democratic governor, Gray Davis, repeated his plea yesterday for Bush to consider some relief for Californians struggling with an electricity crisis and the prospect of more rolling blackouts.
"We are literally in a war with energy companies who are price-gouging us," Davis said. "Mr. President, you didn't create this problem, but you are the only one who can solve it."
But Bush, as well as Vice President Dick Cheney, who led the task force, have said that quick fixes or demands that Americans alter their lifestyles to conserve energy would not solve deep-seated supply problems. The soundest solutions are long-term, they have argued, and include boosting domestic energy supplies and relying less on foreign nations.
To that end, the president renewed his call to open up a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling.
The refuge "can produce 600,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 40 years," Bush said. "What difference does 600,000 barrels a day make? Well, that happens to be exactly the amount we import from Saddam Hussein's Iraq."
Cheney spoke out last month against the kind of approach taken by President Jimmy Carter, who dealt with gasoline shortages in the 1970s by imploring Americans to save energy. Cheney said then that while conservation might be a "personal virtue," it cannot be the focus of a long-term energy strategy.
Carter defended his approach - and took some shots at the Bush policies - in an article published yesterday in the Washington Post.
"No energy crisis exists now that equates in any way with those we faced in 1973 and 1979," Carter wrote. "Exaggerated claims seem designed to promote some long-frustrated ambitions of the oil industry at the expense of environmental quality.
"Some officials are using misinformation and scare tactics to justify such environmental atrocities as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."
The White House has found itself in a delicate position. For weeks, partly as a way to drum up support for his new policy, Bush warned that the nation was in "an energy crisis." Yet even as Americans have grown increasingly concerned, the administration has resisted short-term solutions.
Yesterday, Bush sounded decidedly upbeat, saying he had "great faith in our country's ability to solve the energy problem." He did not use the word "crisis." And he called particular attention to conservation ideas in the report.
The plan calls for examining federal standards on auto fuel efficiency. Democrats have long called for higher standards. But Bush's policy makes no such commitment. It says the standards should be crafted to maximize efficiency "without negatively impacting the U.S. automotive industry."
In his speech, Bush said the nation needed an energy plan, in part "to protect the environment." An entire portion of the report even speaks of "protecting America's environment." The administration calls for new "multi-pollutant" legislation that would limit power plants' emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury.
But Bush decided not to include the proposal that environmentalists and Democrats had been pushing hardest for - a limit on carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to global warming.
The thrust of the plan is to take steps to clear away obstacles for energy-producing industries. Under the plan, for example, Bush would quickly sign an executive order forcing all federal agencies to justify any action they take that could "adversely affect energy supplies, distribution, or use."
The report also suggests re-examining the permit process for the coal industry, which environmentalists say emits too much carbon dioxide if left unregulated. The industry complains that it is impeded by environmental rules.
The plan also calls for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to expedite applications for licenses for new nuclear reactors. And it supports extending the Price-Anderson Act, which shields nuclear reactor owners from unlimited liability in case of a catastrophe.
Bush's policy calls for studying how the Clean Air Act has been interpreted, and perhaps revising a clause requiring the government to closely examine modifications by power plants if they alter emissions.
Environmental groups lamented Bush's policy.
"By emphasizing supply and production, the policy encourages the destruction of the last wild places in America," said John Flicker, president of the National Audubon Society.
The president, in turn, called for "a new tone in discussing energy and the environment, one that is less suspicious, less punitive, less rancorous."