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US Energy Policy Weak, Shortsighted, Many Complain

Critics charge Bush with caving in to oil industry

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ENERGY Secretary James Watkins and his staff listened to 448 witnesses, studied 200,000 pages of documents, and traveled to 48 states to produce the new National Energy Strategy. So they may have been disappointed by the bitter words thrown at the NES this week: ``Scandalous,'' says Susan Merrow, president of the Sierra Club.

``A lousy guide for our energy future,'' grumbles Rep. David Skaggs (D) of Colorado.

``A back-to-the-'50s energy policy,'' charges Rep. Barbara Boxer (D) of California.

``A cruel hoax,'' complains Jeanne Byrne, senior researcher for the Safe Energy Communication Council.

``A national energy tragedy,'' protests Howard Ris, executive director of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

With 527,000 American troops locked in an ``oil war'' in the Persian Gulf, lawmakers were looking to President Bush and Admiral Watkins for a forceful proposal to deal with long-term energy problems in the United States.

Instead, many members of Congress charge that Mr. Bush caved in to the oil industry with a policy of drill, drill, drill and waste, waste, waste.

In a nation which already gobbles petroleum at a far higher rate per capita than Germany or Japan, the NES is ``like giving whiskey to an alcoholic,'' says Ruth Caplan, executive director of Environmental Action. (Worldwatch outlines plan for eco-based economy. Story, page 4.)

Watkins, who spent more than 18 months crafting the NES, says much of that criticism comes from people on ``the fringes of knowledge'' about his plan.

Altogether it contains nearly 100 proposals, more than half of which the White House can put into action without Congress's approval. In sum, it would:

Boost long-term oil output by 3.4 million barrels a day by opening more areas to drilling, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northern Alaska and certain areas of the outer continental shelf.

Speed construction of nuclear power plants by streamlining regulations.

Increase research spending on electric vehicle batteries, fuel cells, low heat rejection diesel engines, high-efficiency aircraft engines and fuselages.

Clear the way for faster construction of natural gas pipelines to make gas, which is plentiful, a larger and more competitive energy source.

Overhaul electric utility regulation to boost competition and foster use of renewable sources of electricity such as wind.

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