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Energy secretary backs domestic drilling, warns of energy crunch

Abraham tells CNN's Wolf Blitzer the U.S. needs to diversify its energy sources  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saying the U.S. energy crunch will probably worsen this summer, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham called Sunday for increased domestic drilling.

With California already wrestling with electricity shortages, Abraham said other cities and states could feel the pinch as the temperatures heat up.

But Abraham said he believed rolling blackouts could be averted in New York City, even though he conceded the margins for the city being "very tight."

"I think that they are going to bring on some new energy, some new electricity supplies before the summer, so they should be OK," he said, speaking on "CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."


Abraham said the country needs to diversify its energy sources, citing oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as one part of that plan. Other areas, he said, could also be opened for drilling.

"Well, I think we should look at all federal lands and determine where, in an environmentally sensitive fashion, we can produce more energy and then consider on a case-by-case basis what makes sense," Abraham said. "At end of the day, I think that we can balance the environment and our energy needs."

Bush's call for more domestic drilling, particularly in the Alaska refuge, has drawn protests from many environmental groups and Democrats who say the administration is willing to sacrifice the country's natural resources.

Abraham said the drilling could proceed without harming the pristine area in Alaska.

"I mean, there are 19 million acres that make up this area," he said. "That is the size of the state of South Carolina. In order to extract the oil and the natural gas, we only need an area roughly the size of a major city airport. It will not destroy this."

The energy secretary said there are "significant reserves" in the refuge, "enough to offset about 75 years of imports from Kuwait, about 20 years of imports from Saudi Arabia."

Abraham refuted the suggestion that the White House has diminished the role that conservation can play in alleviating any energy crunch.

"We do have a serious crisis. Let's start there," he said. "Over the next 20 years, we project energy demand for electricity, natural gas, oil to go up in significant percentages. And our ability to supply the energy that will be demanded by the American people to drive our economy, to maintain our national security is in some question."

Abraham said Vice President Dick Cheney would release the administration's energy plan by late April or early May.

"And we intend to do it not just through more supply, but also by balancing supply with conservation, with traditional energy sources against renewable and new sources," Abraham said.

The energy secretary's comments come at a time when one in five Americans believes the country is in an energy crisis, according to a new CNN/Time poll.

The poll, released Sunday, found that 19 percent of Americans think the country is in an energy crisis and 46 percent think the energy situation is a "major problem."

Americans also believe there are environmental problems, including global warming, according to the poll. Of those polled, 69 percent said the government gives in to businesses on environmental issues; that compares with 79 percent in 1989.

The poll of 1,025 adult Americans has a sampling error of plus or minus percentage points.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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