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

The “task force that’s being assembled will not only deal withthe very short-run issues” in the California and the westernregional power markets, “but obviously the longer-term [energy]issues that will be confronting our country for awhile, unlesswe’re willing to act boldly and swiftly, which we will do,” Bushsaid last Monday during a strategy meeting on energy at the WhiteHouse.

He noted that the session was the first in what would be aseries of meetings to be chaired by Cheney to discuss nationalenergy policy. Others on the task force are Energy SecretarySpencer Abraham, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, TransportationSecretary Norman Mineta, Interior Secretary Gale Norton,Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman,Commerce Secretary Donald Evans and Agriculture Secretary AnnVeneman.

“This is a matter of high concern for this administration…Andwe’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 tocope with high-energy prices and how best to cope with relianceupon foreign oil,” as well as on ways to “encourage the developmentof pipelines and power-generating capacity” in the nation.

“We have been dealing with this issue, obviously, because of thestate of California’s woes,” said Bush, who added “it looks likethey’re making progress in California” to address the powershortages and escalating prices. He believes “the situation isgoing to be best remedied in California, by Californians.”

The administration is “very aware” that the turmoil in thestate’s bulk power markets “is beginning to affect the neighboringstates,” raising concerns among the governors of several westernstates, Bush said. He noted the White House was equally asdistressed about it, and said the task force would confront theissue.

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

“They should expect no more help from the White House,” saidLarry Lindsey, Bush’s top economic advisor, during the CBS “Facethe Nation” on Jan. 28. “It’s not that we don’t want to give themhelp. If we could send thunderbolts into the electric grid to runelectricity, we would do it. We can’t,” he noted.

“If that’s their decision, they [the Bush administration] needto be ready to live with that and come out with a federalresponse,” said a gas industry lobbyist in Washington D.C. Byfederal response, he said he meant “we need a national energypolicy which would entail several actions that might help alleviatethe situation in California, but would also deal nationwide withenergy.”

Susan Parker

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