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Tony Clark: Bush's pick for Energy Department once wanted it abolished

January 4, 2001
Web posted at: 5:29 p.m. EST (2229 GMT)

Tony Clark
Tony Clark  

CNN National Correspondent Tony Clark reports from Austin, Texas, on President-elect George W. Bush's selection of Spencer Abraham to head up the Energy Department.

Q: What is Spencer Abraham's background with the Energy Department?

CLARK: Spencer Abraham was a one-term U.S. senator from Michigan whose relationship with energy is interesting. Even as recently as last year, he was urging the abolishment of the Department of Energy. He came to Washington in the mid-1990s and felt there was too much waste and too much government. One of the agencies he felt had a lot of waste and what he called `no set goals' was the Energy Department.

There were a group of Republicans who had four agencies they wanted abolished. Among them were the Energy and Commerce Departments. Abraham said at the time that he thought there was no core mission for the Energy Department.


Ari Fleischer, a spokesman for president-elect Bush, said Abraham has since changed his mind and that he thinks there is a mission for the Energy Department. Fleischer said Abraham's main concern was the cost of the agency. Fleischer said Abraham believes he can run it with an efficient method, with specific goals.

Q: What are the key energy issues Bush and Abraham seem to agree on?

CLARK: One of the things that led the president-elect to pick him, I think, is that they both agree on one very major issue: That there should be drilling allowed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Spencer Abraham unsuccessfully tried when he was in the Senate to get at least the coastline of the ANWR opened up for oil and gas drilling. He has been a fighter against some fuel efficiency proposals. Remember, he's from Michigan and he didn't want new fuel efficiency standards placed on the automobile industry.

So, there is agreement between the president-elect and Abraham on that important issue.

Q: What are his views on the deregulation of the natural gas industry?

CLARK: I don't think he has said much on that, although he has talked about the importance of having alternative fuels and doing some conservation of energy. But more than anything else, it's really looking for new sources of oil and energy.

He did say during his appointment that he did want to find energy in an environmentally safe way.

Q: Is he well liked by conservation and environmental groups?

CLARK: He's been criticized by environmental groups. In fact, during the November election, when he ran for reelection, the Sierra Club in Michigan targeted him. He was the Sierra Club's No. 1 target because of his stance on the environment. The Sierra Club gave him its lowest rating in regard to environmental issues.

He was in fact defeated in Michigan, and the Sierra Club takes some degree of credit for that. So, there is some concern on the part of environmentalists that he may be - in the words of a director of the Sierra Club - that he's `interested in providing gas-guzzling SUVs and looking for the oil to continue to fuel them.'

On the other hand, if you talk with one of Alaska's senators, Frank Murkowski, he describes Abraham someone who is realistic and action oriented. He sings Abraham's praises. The two of them worked together 1999 to try to get some of Alaska opened up to drilling.

Q: What else should we know about Abraham?

CLARK: In terms of background, he doesn't have a whole lot of oil field or energy-related background. That was not his field of expertise in the Senate. It's interesting that the president-elect who by profession was an oil man and the vice president-elect who by profession was an oil man ended up picking Spencer Abraham who is not from the industry itself.


Thursday, January 4, 2001


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