Cheney Heads Up Cabinet Task Force on Energy

President Bush announced last week he has established a Cabinet-level task force that will be led by Vice President Richard Cheney to deal with the worsening energy picture.

The "task force that's being assembled will not only deal with the very short-run issues" in the California and the western regional power markets, "but obviously the longer-term [energy] issues that will be confronting our country for awhile, unless we're willing to act boldly and swiftly, which we will do," Bush said last Monday during a strategy meeting on energy at the White House.

He noted that the session was the first in what would be a series of meetings to be chaired by Cheney to discuss national energy policy. Others on the task force are Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.

"This is a matter of high concern for this administration...And we're going to formulate a strategy to deal with it," Bush said. Cheney will "report back to me and to the nation [on] how best to cope with high-energy prices and how best to cope with reliance upon foreign oil," as well as on ways to "encourage the development of pipelines and power-generating capacity" in the nation.

"We have been dealing with this issue, obviously, because of the state of California's woes," said Bush, who added "it looks like they're making progress in California" to address the power shortages and escalating prices. He believes "the situation is going to be best remedied in California, by Californians."

The administration is "very aware" that the turmoil in the state's bulk power markets "is beginning to affect the neighboring states," raising concerns among the governors of several western states, Bush said. He noted the White House was equally as distressed about it, and said the task force would confront the issue.

White House officials last week made it clear that the Bush administration will offer no more help to California once the emergency orders requiring suppliers to sell power and natural gas to the state's cash-strapped utilities expire on Feb. 7.

"They should expect no more help from the White House," said Larry Lindsey, Bush's top economic advisor, during the CBS "Face the Nation" on Jan. 28. "It's not that we don't want to give them help. If we could send thunderbolts into the electric grid to run electricity, we would do it. We can't," he noted.

"If that's their decision, they [the Bush administration] need to be ready to live with that and come out with a federal response," said a gas industry lobbyist in Washington D.C. By federal response, he said he meant "we need a national energy policy which would entail several actions that might help alleviate the situation in California, but would also deal nationwide with energy."

Susan Parker

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