Among Applause, Some Big Boos For Bush's Energy Plan

By John S. McClenahen The Washington-based U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Assn. of Manufacturers (NAM) are finding a lot to like in the eight-chapter, 83-page report from the White House's energy task force. "What is perhaps most important about this report is the fact that [the] ongoing energy crisis is receiving the attention it deserves," asserts Michael E. Baroody, NAM's executive vice president. "High energy prices already have wreaked havoc on the economy, costing consumers about $115 billion in [the year] 2000. Rising costs have led to tens of thousands of layoffs in the manufacturing sector alone." But there is some marked dissent -- and not just from Democrats on Capitol Hill. For example, while praising the report's proposed "sensible mix of new production, distribution enhancements, and conservation" Fred Webber, the American Chemistry Council's president and CEO, says his Arlington, Va.-based group is troubled by a recommendation that "could lead to the premature repeal of the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act." That legislation promotes so-called cogeneration, a technology which combines electricity production with the generation of another form of useful energy, and which many chemical producers profitably have put to work. Richard Kolodziej, president of the Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition, Arlington, Va., is disappointed the Bush Administration isn't joining what he describes as the "growing bipartisan coalition" that supports tax incentives for alternative motor fuels. "It is a little puzzling that the report confirms the value of -- and need for -- alternative fuels, identifies the [market] obstacles, but offers very little in the way of substantive policy options." Even as some business leaders, notably Ford Motor Co. Chairman William Clay Ford and BP PLC Group Chief Executive John Browne, are focusing on ways to reduce global warming, the Bush Administration's energy policy proposal is being faulted for not doing the same. "The single biggest challenge for energy policy is addressing the threat of climate change," says Joseph Goffman, a senior attorney at Environmental Defense, a New York-based environment-protection group. "At best, the president's plan shrinks from that challenge; at worst, it will add to the dangerous level of greenhouse gas emissions that are already changing the global climate." Meanwhile, Jerry Taylor, director of natural resources at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank in Washington, takes the Administration to task for offering "a smorgasbord of handouts and subsidies for virtually every energy lobby in Washington." The White House, he contends, "seems to have forgotten the fundamental lesson of [the energy crises] of the 1970s: If technologies are competitive and economically promising, then no federal handouts are necessary. If they are not, then no amount of federal assistance will make them so." Overall, though, Taylor characterizes Bush's energy plan as a placebo, the "political equivalent of a sugar pill."

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