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Published: Thursday, 10/6/2005

Bush team searches for energy answers

BY ANN McFEATTERS
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

WASHINGTON - As the Bush administration searches for solutions to energy shortages exacerbated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it is running up against a major conflict between its new-found belief in global warming and relaxing environmental regulations.

The Bush administration has fought international efforts to restrict carbon dioxide as a cause of global warming.

However, this week Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the administration believes carbon dioxide is increasing, is man-made, is a factor in global warming, and needs to be reduced.

He said, there is an "increasing level of certainty that the impact is real. There is a connection. It's measurable. It's real."

If the Bush administration did not believe it's real, he said, it would not be spending $2 billion a year on global climate scientific research, including carbon sequestration projects aimed at extracting carbon dioxide from coal-fired utilities and putting it in the ocean to keep it from getting into the atmosphere.

On Aug. 8 President Bush signed a 10-year, $12.3 billion, 1,724-page energy bill he had been fighting to get passed for five years, warning it would do nothing to deal with current high gasoline prices.

But spurred by the back-to-back hurricanes, now the administration and a number of Republicans are pressing to win support in Congress tomorrow for a wide-ranging package of provisions that would relax environmental regulations on building refineries and coal-fired power plants, open areas now banned to oil and gas drilling, and provide tax incentives for the energy industry.

Environmentalists, angry at record-high profits reported by oil companies, say they are aghast. John Walke, clean-air director of the National Resources Defense Council, said the pending legislation amounts to "exploitation of the national tragedy by allowing oil companies to pollute more and hurt the public health."

Environmentalists, however, want Congress to pass different legislation in the wake of the storms. They favor a bipartisan bill that would raise vehicle fuel-efficiency standards from 25 miles a gallon to 33 miles a gallon. U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), a sponsor of the bill, said the bill Mr. Bush signed did nothing to reduce dependency on foreign oil or help consumers struggling with ever-higher energy costs.

The administration opposes that legislation, arguing anything that adds regulation to the beleaguered auto industry restricts its competitive stand with other automakers around the world. The administration also firmly opposes raising the federal gasoline tax and opening drilling on the outer continental shelf off such tourist-dependent states as Florida and California. For one thing, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush extracted a promise from his brother not to open up gas and oil drilling off his coastline.

Although the oil industry purposely shut down about 55 refineries in the 1990s, arguing in part that they weren't making enough money, Mr. Bush now says that refineries must be built.

The administration argues for relaxing regulations that restrict where refineries can be built and how much pollution equipment they must have.

David Hamilton, who is in charge of global warming and energy issues for the Sierra Club, says the administration's actions since Katrina have been "highly cynical." With 124 permits pending for construction of coal-fired plants, he said, "We will see a huge increase in [carbon dioxide] emissions with huge implications for global warming."

The legislation, which will soon have a vote in the House, is far-reaching. It would end a 25-year-ban on oil and gas drilling along the coasts, permit drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, provide tax help to the oil industry, and provide incentives to build refineries.

Contact Ann McFeatters at:

amcfeatters@nationalpress.com

or 202-662-7071.



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