Barton Defends Inclusion of ANWR in Energy Strategy
Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) last week defended President Bush's
energy policy strategy against criticism that it's fixated on
drilling in the Alaska arctic while giving short shift to the
nation's more pressing energy concerns.
Advocating drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
(ANWR) is a "huge distraction from the most important energy policy
issues that we need to address this year and next year," Ed
Smelloff, executive director of the Pace Law School Energy Project,
told Barton during a panel discussion on energy policy issues
broadcast on National Public Radio last Tuesday.
It "really makes no sense from an environmental, economic or
energy perspective" to make drilling in ANWR the "centerpiece" of
an administration energy bill, said Rodger Schlickeisen, president
of the Defenders of Wildlife, a Washington D.C. advocacy group for
the preservation of endangered species. There are only 180-270 days
worth of oil in the arctic to satisfy U.S. energy consumption
needs, and it wouldn't be available for probably 10 years, he
"I think [the] use of the word 'centerpiece'...may be
overstating the case," countered Barton, chairman of the House
Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee. ANWR "doesn't necessarily have
to be a centerpiece" of an administration or congressional bill,
"but it could actually be part" of it.
"I think you're going to see President Bush and [the]
congressional leadership be 'ecumenical' in terms of where the
energy supply comes from," he said, adding that comprehensive
legislation would include provisions on nuclear energy, alternative
fuels, increased use of coal, oil, natural gas and conservation
measures. He said he also supports greater access to public lands
for producers, and tax incentives to encourage more oil and gas
The House won't take up energy legislation until after Vice
President Richard Cheney's task force releases its initial
recommendations for an administration energy initiative, Barton
said. At that time, "we'll sit down with him [Cheney] and we'll
decide what can be done short term, and whether we need a big bill
or several little bills to start the ball rolling." In the
meantime, Barton's subcommittee plans to hold hearings on
electricity restructuring --- one was held last Thursday --- and on
"what I call an energy inventory of this country." The Senate has
postponed unveiling its energy bill until later this month.
"I agree with President Bush that if there are economically
recoverable reserves in ANWR, we should attempt to produce those,"
Barton said. Unlike Schlickeisen, Barton believes ANWR holds great
potential for oil and gas consumers in the Lower 48 states. It's
"possible it could be the third largest oil field ever discovered
in North America and one of the 10 largest in the world."
The House lawmaker estimated there's potentially enough oil in
ANWR to supply up to a million and a half barrels per day over a
30-year period, as well as abundant supplies of natural gas. He
believes drilling and production can be accomplished in an
environmentally sensitive manner.
But considerable doubt exists as to whether there are enough
votes in Congress to get through a bill that includes opening ANWR
Smelloff said California should be at the top of the
administration's energy agenda now rather than ANWR. "There is a
need for the federal government through the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission (FERC) to step in while the markets are not
competitive, stabilize the situation and protect ratepayers from
being gouged" by the independent power producers (IPPs) that have
no obligation to serve, he said.
Unless this happens, "you're going to see a very unhappy America
West of the Rockies" this summer, Smelloff warned. "The California
problem is not going to be isolated in California. Come this
summer, we are going to have a major West Coast problem."
Drilling in ANWR "has nothing whatsoever to do with the
California situation," he said. But the two issues "are being
connected by unfortunately President Bush as a way of promoting
drilling in the arctic."
Smelloff laid much of the blame for the recent power outages in
California on the IPPs. "When the utilities owned the power plants,
they coordinated" their schedules for maintenance shutdowns "so
that there would be sufficient power plants left in reserve to
assure reliability. But now that the power plants have been sold
off to independent power producers there's no joint scheduling," he
said. He further contends that IPPs are doing less preventive
maintenance on their generation facilities, prompting more plant
outages to occur.
That's "absolute poppycock" to fault the IPPs for not properly
maintaining their generation plants, countered Barton. "These
independent power producers have...been forced by the government of
California to keep their plants running when it's probably unsafe
to do so." He noted that 40% of the generation plants in the state
are at least 30 years old, and about 20% of them are more than 40
Unlike most experts, Smelloff claims that California has more
than enough generation capacity within its boundaries (47,000 MWs)
to meet peak winter demand (30,000 MWs). "That's simply not true,"
Barton shot back, saying the figures from FERC and the California
Public Utilities Commission tell a much different story.
Angela Antonelli of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative
think-tank, said she hopes the California power crisis doesn't put
a damper on electric deregulation in other states. "It certainly
shouldn't mean less enthusiasm for deregulation because what was
done in California was not deregulation. What it was was a
restructuring of the market, and it was a terrible restructuring of
The current turmoil in California's power market is "definitely
California's fault," because while the state deregulated the
wholesale end, it failed to deregulate the retail side and
neglected to emphasize conservation measures, she noted. It would
be "unfortunate if other states look at California and decide not
Unlike others, Barton doesn't believe the problems facing the
energy industry in the United States have reached crisis
proportion. "There's no energy crisis," he said. "We've got a
supply and perhaps a consumption problem, but it can be solved." If
fact, he believes the U.S. can become energy independent in every
area except oil. Susan Parker