Cheney says despite Senate shift, long-term energy policy needed

May 25, 2001
US Vice-Pres. Dick Cheney Friday said policy makers should not yield to political expediency and continue ignoring the nation's long-term energy needs.

WASHINGTON, DC, May 25 -- US Vice-Pres. Dick Cheney Friday said policy makers should not yield to political expediency and continue ignoring the nation's long-term energy needs.

"The tone of the debate is important; it's not about Republicans and Democrats, it's looking for common ground," Cheney said in a talk to the US Chamber of Commerce.

He noted that there is "lots of common ground" between industry and environmental groups, noting that a recent Sierra Club 12-point plan for America's energy future included 11 recommendations contained in the White House's recently released national energy policy.

Cheney said the time has passed for Congress to ignore the "tough issues" on energy policy, but warned that crafting legislation will not be easy: "This is not a touchdown; it's 3 yards and a cloud of dust," he said.

He acknowledged that the defection of Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont from the Republican Party this week was "painful" and will affect the dynamics of the Senate, "but we think the issues haven't changed any ... there's no reason it has to be a partisan fight."

On Capitol Hill, some party leaders on both sides of the aisle have suggested Congress may not pursue comprehensive energy legislation this summer. Instead, it may consider narrow bills that targeted to specific concerns such as electric power shortages in the West.

However, oil industry officials warn that today's heightened focus on energy problems has given policy makers a unique opportunity to pass sweeping legislation.

"There is a risk of doing something in one area when you don't look at the big picture," said American Petroleum Institute Pres. Red Cavaney. "There is a need for a holistic approach. It's (like) a jigsaw puzzle and you need all the pieces to fit."

Thomas Donohue, Chamber of Commerce president, said, "The Bush administration is forcing this country to abandon short-sighted policies that don't work and instead focus on a long term strategy that will ensure the economic vitality of this great nation for decades to come."

However, industry observers concede the White House has a formidable task ahead this summer. Many of the administration's energy recommendations focus on streamlining the regulatory process. But the more controversial and long-term proposals would require congressional action.

And given the new makeup of the Senate, compromises clearly will be needed. Lobbyists believe some energy package could become law this year, because the Democratic and Republican bills have common elements such as expanded tax incentives for marginal oil production, streamlined clean-fuel rules, and electricity law reforms.

The administration's energy policy calls for the State Department to reexamine US trade sanctions against such oil-producing countries as Iran, Libya, and Iraq.

Complicating the issue is a bipartisan effort in Congress to extend for 5 years a law that seeks to punish foreign countries or companies that invest in Iran and Libya. Presidential orders also prevent US companies from making direct investments in those nations.

Cheney has supported the removal of sanctions, saying they put US companies at a disadvantage. However, he told the Chamber of Commerce that "special circumstances" must be considered before removing those sanctions. He did not indicate when the White House would reach a position on extending the law.