Sunday, May 23, 2004

Bush, Kerry differ on energy

Candidates take opposing views to get cheap gas

By Doug Abrahms
Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON - Democrat John Kerry believes requiring cars to get better gas mileage would lower demand and, so, lower gas prices.

Nuclear power
The United States gets 20 percent of its energy from nuclear power.
• Bush: Supports building new nuclear power plants.
•  Kerry: Supports keeping existing nuclear power plants open but opposes building new ones.

Vehicle mileage requirements
Mileage requirements on vehicles haven't been raised much in more than a decade.
• Bush: Supports a limited increase in mileage standards.
• Kerry: Supports requiring cars and SUVs to average 36 miles per gallon.

Alaska oil drilling
A proposal to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was removed from the energy bill.
• Bush: Supports drilling.
• Kerry: Opposes drilling.

Energy bill
An energy bill has stalled in the Senate.
• Bush: Supports the bill because it would increase production of all energy sources.
• Kerry: Opposes the bill because it offers too many tax breaks and doesn't do enough to lower energy consumption.
Republican George W. Bush believes removing environmental restrictions would allow more oil drilling and refining in the United States, which would increase supply and, so, lower gas prices.

In the short-term, whoever is elected president in November will not be able to do much to reduce record-high gasoline prices at the pump. Energy markets are global and difficult to influence.

But in the long term, Bush and Kerry would start the nation down roads going in vastly different directions on energy consumption and production.

Kerry, whose chief adviser on energy policy is a former Clinton administration environmental official, favors reducing gasoline demand.

A main Kerry proposal would require automakers to boost fuel efficiency on cars and sport utility vehicles to 36 miles per gallon by 2015 compared with today's current average of 20.8 mpg for all vehicles.

An increase in gas mileage would cut oil use in the United States by about 2 million barrels a day - 10 percent of today's consumption, Kerry has said.

A new part of Kerry's plan is an offer of tax breaks to U.S. manufacturers that make the expensive changes in their assembly lines to make more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The Bush administration also promotes conservation and raised the mileage requirement on light trucks and SUVs from 21 mpg to 22.2 mpg. That is the biggest boost to fuel efficiency for vehicles in a decade, said Mike Catanzaro, deputy policy director for Bush's re-election campaign.

But Bush's focus is on increasing U.S. energy supplies by opening more federal lands to oil and gas drilling.

His administration already has opened up federal lands in the West for more oil and natural gas drilling and supports opening up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Experts estimate the refuge could produce enough oil to satisfy U.S. demand for six months to two years.

Kerry last year vowed to block the proposal because of the environmental harm drilling would cause.

The Bush administration has loosened clean air rules to let power plants and refineries expand and supports easing other environmental rules.

Ties to big oil

Democrats last week delivered a coordinated broadside from Congress to the campaign trail against the Bush administration, focusing on the business background of the president and Cheney, both of whom have long-standing ties to the oil industry.

Cincinnati investors Bill DeWitt and Mercer Reynolds were former business partners of the president, both in the oil business and later with the Texas Rangers baseball team.

Kerry accused the Republican incumbent of breaking a campaign promise to pressure oil-producing nations to increase production to help control soaring prices.

Ten Democratic governors released a letter to Bush on Tuesday calling for an Energy Department investigation of the gasoline pricing structure, with three of the governors participating in a Kerry-campaign-organized conference call to criticize the president.

"That tax cut Mr. Bush is so proud of is being eaten completely by gas prices," said Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

On Capitol Hill, a group of Democratic senators introduced a resolution calling for the release of 1 million of barrels of oil a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for up to 60 days, arguing that would force down gas prices.

Republicans dismissed the election-year criticism - House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, called it "oil-for-votes" - and renewed their argument that Democrats standing in the way of an energy bill were to blame.

"The president believes like ... Americans do, the gas prices are too high," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "That's why we need a comprehensive energy plan to address this problem that continues to come up every year."

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham accused those, mostly Democrats, who are calling for the release of emergency government oil of "playing games with our Strategic Petroleum Reserve."

Not a big issue

Political analysts say voters will focus more on the nation's overall economy and the war in Iraq than energy prices when they go to the polls in November.

"It can become a political issue, but never the No. 1 or No. 2 issue," said Tobe Berkovitz, political analyst and associate dean of the College of Communication at Boston University.

Most of the large oil, gas and electric industries share Bush's philosophy to increase U.S. energy supplies.

Refinery building has stopped since the 1970s because of permitting hurdles, said Charlie Drevna, an executive with the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association.

Meanwhile, gasoline consumption grows and refiners must meet new clean-fuel requirements in the next three years, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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