Minnesota environmentalists will taunt and jeer from a block away
when President Bush unveils his national energy strategy in St. Paul. A
coalition of green groups is expected to purchase TV time to attack the
administration manifesto in key markets. Congressional Democrats
temporarily commandeered a Capitol Hill gas station to plug their
competing energy initiative.
For the environmental community--and the Democrats in Congress who
support their causes--Thursday's roll-out of the Bush administration's
comprehensive energy plan will be the political equivalent of D-day.
People are very disappointed. They didn't expect this out of Bush.
Minnesota Sierra Club
"The environmental community is going to put more money into this than
any other campaign in its history because there is so much at stake,"
said Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. "What
they are assembling is an all-out attack on environmental protections."
Opponents of the administration's energy policies say they are
preparing to wage a ferocious battle with the energy industry and its
congressional allies to prevent what they fear could be the potential
reversal of decades of hard-won gains.
Even before it has been released, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the
Bush energy plan a "recipe for disaster" and stressed that "Democrats
will throw themselves on the train tracks" to stop it.
The energy policy showdown is shaping up as a critical test of the
political muscle and marketing savvy of environmental lobbyists. The
outcome will depend in large part on their ability to maintain alliances
with Capitol Hill Democrats--and some Republicans who face tough
reelection battles--who can help them kill the provisions they consider
House and Senate Democrats have already produced alternate energy
plans that place more emphasis on protecting the environment and
promoting energy efficiency. That contrasts with an administration plan
that is expected to emphasize increased production of energy.
"We're not willing to kick the environment over, as the Bush
administration seems willing to do, to get more supply," said House
Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.).
Groups Coalesce in Opposition
Environmental groups, which are presenting a united front against the
administration plan, oppose many of its basic elements, including:
* Drilling for oil and gas on public land where extraction is now
prohibited or discouraged, such as on the coastal plain of the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska.
* Expanding electricity production from coal-fired plants, which
environmentalists argue will increase emission of harmful pollutants and
carbon dioxide, a contributor to global warming.
* Increasing electricity production by nuclear plants, an unacceptable
option to environmentalists, who generally consider the prospect of more
nuclear waste a risk too big to take.
Environmental activists also expect the administration to provide few
incentives to increase the use of renewable energy sources, such as wind
power and fuel cells, or to set out a clear plan for reducing emission of
"When you're talking about constructing new power-generating sources,
you're talking about an infrastructure that will last for many years to
come. If we don't do it right, our grandchildren will suffer," said Scott
Elkins, Minnesota state director of the Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups are organizing a
protest near the energy-efficient power plant that Bush plans to use as a
backdrop when he presents his energy plan to the nation Thursday.
Elkins said he was surprised by the scores of calls his office has
received from people who want to let Bush know they oppose his plan.
Although the 100-page document has not been released, its key principles
have been described by Vice President Dick Cheney, who headed the task
force that drafted it.
The callers expressed concern about the administration's expected
emphasis on fossil fuels and nuclear power to expand electricity
supplies, and its less aggressive embrace of efficiency improvements and
energy conservation, Elkins said.
"People are very disappointed. They didn't expect this out of Bush,"
TV Ads Targeted to Certain Areas
It is those kinds of sentiments that environmentalists hope to
encourage with their multifaceted attack on the Bush energy plan. They
intend to pool funds to run television commercials "in places where
people are undecided as to what they think and where we think we can
influence the debate," said Dan Becker, an energy specialist at the
Sierra Club. The groups with large memberships, such as the
650,000-member Sierra Club, will mobilize members to call, write and
e-mail key lawmakers to urge them to oppose the administration plan.
The business community in general and energy industry in particular
are backing Bush's plan. But recent polls have convinced them that
environmentalists may have the edge in public opinion, making them
"They're very good at casting a message," said William Kovacs, who
focuses on energy and environmental issues at the U.S. Chamber of
Hundreds of local chambers and trade associations have formed the
Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth to press the business community
to counteract the grass-roots efforts of environmentalists.
"It's up to [the] American business community to educate the public
about the need for additional energy resources and the adverse impacts on
our quality of life and our economy if we don't get the additional
resources," Kovacs said.
Environmentalists will have ready allies on Capitol Hill, where
Democrats have come to see battling the White House on green issues as
one of their most effective political strategies heading into the 2002
House Democrats are planning to set up a "war room" Thursday to serve
as a command center for their attacks on the Bush plan. They launched a
preemptive strike Tuesday, unveiling a more conservation-focused
The House Democrats go head-to-head with the Bush team on several
issues. They oppose construction of new nuclear plants, relaxation of
environmental regulations and new drilling in Alaska. They are promoting
a number of short-term measures opposed by the White House, including the
release of crude oil from U.S. strategic reserves and the imposition of
temporary price controls on wholesale electricity supplies to California.
The Democratic plan calls for the government to impose "maximum
feasible fuel economy" standards for light trucks and sport-utility
vehicles. It would increase funding for research into fuel cells and
other alternative energy technologies.
Consumers who buy energy efficient cars and homes would get tax
breaks, as would companies that embrace renewable fuels and reduce
emissions. There would also be a tax break to encourage construction of a
natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the Lower 48 states.
There are a few areas of agreement between Democrats and the White
House, including support of tax breaks for development of alternative
energy sources and weatherization of homes.
And like the White House, Democrats are being careful not to call for
consumer sacrifices to reduce energy consumption. Democrats "do not
advocate energy policies that will require rationing or reductions in our
standard of living," the plan states on its first page. Indeed, the cover
of the document features a photo of a happy family washing their
Reid, ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee, predicted that Bush's plan will draw opposition even within
"I don't think [the battle] will be as big as people think because I
don't think he has the support of many Republicans," Reid said. "I think
he'll be brought back to the reality of what the nation needs and wants."
Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times