Abraham Blasts Critics of Energy Plan for Unfair Tactics

Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham took the not-so-original position of blaming pollsters and the media last Wednesday for unfairly criticizing the administration's energy plan. He said they're simply using the wrong measuring stick by singling out issues that are obviously disliked the most, such as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), while many of the other important issues are never even mentioned, let alone subjected to public opinion polls.

During a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Abraham said the latest test for the plan isn't whether there are blackouts in California or legislation passed in the House, but rather it is based on "public opinion surveys...fraught with such limitations that they could never offer a fair assessment of the president's plan."

Abraham said that of the 105 recommendations in the administration's plan, 85 call for administrative action, which is moving ahead steadily. The remaining 20 recommendations call for congressional action, and "we are also very happy with our progress on that front." Four House committees have marked up and passed energy bills that incorporate many of the administration's legislative recommendations. Floor action is expected soon and there should be further House and Senate action in the fall.

Despite these favorable circumstances, said Abraham, "the conventional wisdom today is that we aren't doing well on energy."

The reason is that the "goal posts have moved again," and there's a different measuring stick being used. "Hence ANWR support is constantly tested as though it is the centerpiece of our plan -- which it isn't -- while at least 100 of our recommendations have never been subject to polling inquiry," he told the Press Club. "Moreover, when asked to compare energy options, the public has generally been offered a false choice: In essence, Americans have been asked to pick between massive drilling in the protected wilderness versus painless conservation coupled with a crackdown on energy companies that are charging high prices.

"Now measuring more drilling and pipelines against mandated lower energy prices hardly seems a realistic way to assess our plan, yet that is in essence what we have encountered. Does anyone really believe that Americans would prefer more power plants on the one hand versus lower prices without sacrifice on the other? Of course not."

Testing the administration's energy plan versus the competition requires, first, that the competition have a comprehensive plan of its own, which it does not have, he noted. The plan of most administration critics, according to Abraham, is that the nation can "safely defer action," but nothing could be further from the truth because oil, gas and power demand are growing too rapidly for supply and transmission to keep pace.

"While our demand for oil is expected to increase by a third over the next two decades, we produce 39% less oil than we did in 1970, and that downward trend is sure to continue unless we change course," he said. "While our demand for electricity will rise by 45%, demand for natural gas, which is currently the fuel of choice for generating electricity, is projected to rise by 62%. We would be hard pressed to supply that demand for natural gas unless we locate and develop far greater domestic reserves than currently exist. Moreover, the rest of the world is increasingly turning to the use of natural gas and this only puts greater pressure on the availability -- and price -- of that commodity," he added. He also noted that while transmission and distribution outages cost U.S. businesses $119 billion last year, there are currently plans for only a 4.2% increase in transmission lines over the next 10 years.

The Energy Information Administration projects that in 20 years the United States will consume 175 quadrillion Btus (quads) of energy. Although it also expects conservation and energy efficiency will reduce that projected demand by 48 quads, that still leaves a demand of 127 quads of energy by the year 2020. Today, the country consumes only 98 quads, 72 of which are supplied by domestic sources of energy and 26 of which are imported.

"So, even with robust efficiency gains, we are still faced with a shortfall ... And here is perhaps the most important number: During the past 10 years, as a country, we have increased domestic energy supply by just one quad," Abraham said.

"Now some ask if the problem is really this severe? What if we have a shortfall of, say, just two or three or 10 quads of energy? What difference will it really make? To put this in perspective, consider this: A quad of energy equals the amount of natural gas required to heat 15 million homes... In other words, this is an arena where getting close is not good enough."

Abraham sees five "great challenges" in solving the nation's energy problems: changing from government mandates for conservation to market-based incentives; increasing domestic supply of major energy sources; avoiding a "dangerous dependency on a single, depletable, source of electricity -- natural gas;" expanding power transmission lines and pipelines to meet the needs of the 21st century; and focusing national research and development investments on new areas, such as solar and wind, and away from sources of energy that already are mature.

©Copyright 2001 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.