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Bush: Blackout is 'wake-up' call

Dems, GOP spar over energy policy

President Bush, right, is given a tour of the Santa Monica Mountains in California on Friday.
President Bush, right, is given a tour of the Santa Monica Mountains in California on Friday.

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President Bush says the federal government is ready to help local governments deal with the blackout.
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CNN's Bill Hemmer interviews New York Gov. George Pataki on the status of the power crisis.
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New Yorkers' reactions to the power outage.
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- President Bush said Friday the massive blackout that struck the Northeast and upper Midwest -- as well as parts of Canada -- is a "wake-up call" to modernize the electricity system.

The blackout also provided an opening for some sparring between the administration and Democrats over energy policy with the two sides trading shots over which party was more interested in developing a comprehensive plan.

Bush, taking questions from reporters while visiting the Santa Monica Mountains north of Los Angeles, described the delivery system as "old and antiquated"

"This is an indication that we need to modernize the electricity grid," said Bush, who repeated his call for lawmakers to pass a broad energy bill.

In a written statement, Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri -- one of nine Democrats seeking his party's presidential nomination -- said the blackout showed the Bush administration is "inexorably tied to Persian Gulf oil and old energy."

Gephardt said the Bush administration had rejected an energy plan he put forward in 2001, one that he said would have modernized the nation's power grid and prompted the development of alternative energy sources, such as ethanol, wind and solar.

Generally, Republicans have been more supportive of expanded domestic oil and gas drilling than Democrats, and the two parties also differ on how vigorous a role the government ought to play in promoting conservation.

Bill Richardson, the Democratic New Mexico governor who served as energy secretary under President Clinton, said he has been warning of antiquated power grids for years, but the issue has not been regarded as "sexy" by lawmakers -- until now.

"It's taken a blackout to wake everybody up," said Richardson, speaking from Santa Fe in an interview on CNN. "We've been warning for years. ... I went around the country saying these blackouts are going to happen."

In California, Bush praised those residents back East who had to deal with the blackout, saying they displayed calm during the crisis.

"They showed the rest of the country and the world the true mettle of the American people," Bush said, adding that the government's emergency response to the crisis was good as well.

The president said he was "most pleased" with the response of the federal government's emergency apparatus. "I doubt ... the response would have been as good prior to September 11th," he said, referencing the terrorist attacks in 2001.

Thursday night, Bush assured the nation that the blackout was not the act of terrorists.

Bush singled out the creation of the Department of Homeland Security for praise and cited the "modernization of communications" among state, local and federal officials.

"We made it abundantly clear that, where we had assets to help, we were more than willing to help. This is a national problem."

But so far, he said, the only request for help has come from New York City, where officials Friday morning asked the Department of Homeland Security for a generator, "which we're now working on delivering."

Bush was in California for some fund raising and a speech about the war on terrorism. During his visit to the Santa Monica Mountains, he talked about conservation efforts.(Full story)


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