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After Florida, Diverse Energy Policies Ahead

After Florida, Diverse Energy Policies Ahead

While THE vote recount continues and with little change dictated by the elections in the energy leadership in the House and Senate, energy industry pundits were at leisure to explore energy policy scenarios under Democratic or Republican regimes and potential candidates to fill the top slots in either eventuality.

If Texas Gov. George W. Bush is elected president, it seems clear that energy policy will get a higher priority and could even be a leading item for a new administration taking office in mid-January. Bush's energy policy is heavy on incentives for conventional supply, while Vice President Al Gore's strategy is wrapped up in environmental concerns and leans toward conservation. Implementation of these strategies for either candidate will have to take into account the lack of a mandate in an election result that couldn't get any closer.

That and the fact that much of Bush's strategy, directed at redressing the balance after "seven and a half years without an energy policy" includes so many measures which could be viewed as self-serving for the oil industry, argues for selection of a Democrat as energy secretary, according to Matthew Simmons, head of Simmons & Co. International. Simmons, who aided in the formulation of the Bush energy strategy, told Daily GPI "it would really pay big dividends to have someone on the other side of the aisle," delivering the news in the energy hotspot. He pointed out that President Clinton has turned to Republicans for leadership in the Defense Department, where his administration is vulnerable.

"There probably will be a very short window" for names to be dropped into the ring, Simmons said. A total party switch in administrations means the whole top layer of the federal government must be turned over in a very short time period.

Vice President Al Gore, on the other hand, would have more leisure to replace Clinton Democrats with Gore Democrats. If he chooses to replace Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, he would have a ready candidate in former FERC Chair Elizabeth Moler, who came very close to achieving the top spot twice under the Clinton administration, but lost out to political expediency.

She also has strong environmental credentials, which would fit into the Gore focus. Moler, however, also is a pragmatist who is very knowledgeable about the industry and conceivably could fit into the slot of a Democrat in a Republican regime. Other names that also would fit that bill, industry observers say, would be former Senate Energy Committee Chairman J. Bennett Johnston of Louisiana and President David Boren of Oklahoma University, who formerly represented Oklahoma Democrats in the U.S. Senate. Both men were popular and highly regarded during their Washington tour. Another name that has been mentioned as a possibly energy secretary in a Bush administration is Rep. Billy Tauzin, (R-LA), who has long been a friend of the oil industry.

Among those mentioned as possible contenders for commissioner and/or chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under a Bush administration are stand-outs on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, Chairman Bob Anthony, a Republican, and Vice-Chairman Denise Bode, a past president of the Independent Petroleum Association and legal counsel in Boren's Senate office.

Among the more controversial measures espoused in the Bush energy plan are opening up 8% of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, examining federal policies on drilling for natural gas on currently restricted federal lands, improving the regulatory process to encourage more refining capacity, requiring regulators to develop a comprehensive policy for approving pipelines, focusing funds on "clean coal" technologies and streamlining re-licensing of hydroelectric projects and oppose breaching of dams.

Simmons said Bush's strategy also calls for setting up an early warning system for the nation's energy deliverability by making the secretary of energy a standing member of the National Security Council. "Somebody basically needs to be wearing the energy hat to set off the fire alarm. If we had had that in place, we could have seen today's problems coming two years ago." Bush also would work to make energy security a priority of U. S. foreign policy and develop a North American Energy Policy with Canada and Mexico.

Gore's policy centers on creating an energy security and environment trust fund that will provide various incentives, including tax credits, to encourage consumers to drive energy-efficient cars and live in energy-efficient homes and for the development of energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly technologies. The fund would further the twin goals of guaranteeing sufficient energy and reducing pollution to counter global warming. Both candidates favor measures to fund energy assistance for low-income groups.

The answers can't come soon enough for Simmons, who is concerned that Northeast stocks of home heating oil currently are 25% of what they were last year at this time. For the "tragedy" the nation could face this winter "there just isn't a silver bullet." Simmons recently warned the nation was ill-prepared to enter "the perfect energy crisis" that could face the nation this winter (see NGI, Oct. 30).

Ellen Beswick

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