President-elect George W. Bush, a former oil driller, signaledlast week that he plans to move energy issues to center stage whenhe arrives in Washington, focusing on oil and natural gasexploration and production and opening up more federal lands tocarry out these activities.

He indicated several issues that have long been on the energyindustry’s “wish list” — greater access to public lands fordrilling, an expedited process at FERC for approving more expansionof pipeline capacity, a more favorable investment climate forexpanding power generation capacity and an easing of environmentalrestrictions — will receive top priority under hisadministration.

“I strongly believe that we must work in concert to increase theamount of supply available for American consumers – supply ofnatural gas, supply of coal, supply of plant and equipment,” TheLos Angeles Times quoted Bush as saying during a press conferencein Austin, TX, last week. The nation currently is “undersupplied”and demand is escalating, resulting in runaway prices, he noted.

On another energy issue, California Gov. Gray Davis spoke bytelephone with President-elect George W. Bush last Thursday aboutthe problems in the state’s electricity market. “He found that thepresident-elect was well informed of the situation here inCalifornia, and the two pledged to mutually work together to managethe problem,” said a press aide for the governor.

“I don’t think the talks got that specific,” the aide noted,when asked if Bush and Gov. Davis discussed possible remedies.

With the changing of the guard soon to occur at the White House,Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) and four other Republican membersof the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee have called onPresident Clinton to refrain from enacting any regulations thatcould place off limits even more federal lands for natural gas andoil producers. Such action would only aggravate the current gasprice and supply crisis, they said.

Specifically, Murkowski and the senators are concerned the U.S.Forest Service may try to put into effect before Clinton leavesoffice regulations that would set aside 40 million acres of”roadless” areas in the National Forest System, effectivelyprohibiting drilling, mining and logging on them. In addition,there are a number of other actions pending that aren’t friendly togas production and transportation, a committee aide said. SomeHouse Republicans, for example, are keeping close tabs on possibleWhite House efforts to declare the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge(ANWR) a national monument.

Conspicuously absent from Bush’s remarks last week was ANWR. Hevowed during his campaign to open about 8% of ANWR to responsibleE&P activity, but whether Bush will be able to carry through onhis promise remains to be seen. Efforts to open up ANWR to drillinghave been on and off again since Bush’s father was president in theearly 1990s. He is certain to get a lot of opposition fromDemocrats in Congress on this issue.

In a Dec. 15 letter to Clinton, Murkowski and the fourRepublican senators urged the president to “consider the effect ofregulatory actions taken during the closing days of youradministration on the safe production, transportation anddistribution of natural gas to American consumers.” Given the”present natural gas price crisis, we ask that no actions be takenthat would harm natural gas supplies.”

The Clinton administration’s “roadless” policy could have”severe implications” for gas markets, the lawmakers warned. “Werespectfully request that your roadless policy clearly allow forthe exploration, development and transportation of clean-burningnatural gas.”

In light of the current supply-demand imbalance for gas,Murkowski and the senators believe it will be critical for the nextCongress to craft policies that will make more gas suppliesavailable to the public. Until then, “we ask that you [Clinton]work to make sure the federal government does not harm consumers.”

Susan Parker

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