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What Should the Bush Administration Do About High Energy Prices?

Aired May 8, 2001 - 19:30   ET


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: More rolling blackouts this evening, and by fall, gasoline could cost $3 a gallon, which in turn will raise the price of everything from daisies to dairy to the family trip to Disneyland.

There's an energy crisis brewing. The question is, what to do about it? The administration will outline its energy policy in some detail next week. In the meantime, the White House has made two points clear: Don't blame us, we just got here, and don't expect us to lower gas prices. We can't.

Not good enough, say critics, including the increasingly desperate governor of California, Gray Davis. Send help soon, he says. But what sort of help should the government send: price controls, more refineries, a tougher stance with OPEC. Or is conservation the real answer: more fans, fewer air conditioners? It's going to be a long, hot, expensive summer --Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Indeed, Tucker. Congressman, good to see you back on CROSSFIRE. I'm just amazed at what a difference a year makes. Last summer, gas prices started to go up. Candidate George Bush was blaming it all on Bill Clinton, demanding that the president act.

This year, it's a little different story. Gas prices going up, here what's White House press secretary Ari Fleischer yesterday said was going to be the president's response.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: His focus is on long-term solutions, not quick fixes. Quick fixes don't work. He wants to have the focus on that which is long-term, that'll work.


PRESS: In other words, he's saying to American consumers drop dead.

REP. VITO FOSSELLA (R), NEW YORK: I disagree. I think what he is doing is acting. For a couple years now, I know people in this town, but more importantly, people across the country have realized that there's been an energy policy, or lack thereof, across the country.

I think what the president is doing is the responsible and the right thing to do, to lay out to the American people, acknowledge the reality that demand has grown over the years, and will continue to grow in a positive way, but supply has not -- infrastructure, refineries -- and as a result, we have seen the spikes, not just at the gas pump, but in New York, for example, last year, we experienced high home heating oil prices.

So, I think what the president is doing is playing catch-up for the failure to act are for the last five, 10, 15 years, and that's the surest and most important way that we're going to continue to solve this energy problem we're having.

PRESS: I know. That's what the White House says. They keep blaming everybody that came there before them, but Bush is there now, and there may be several things you can do: cutting the gas tax, Bush is opposed to it. There's one other thing he suggested in a debate last January that President Clinton should do. I just want to remind you of what Bush then was saying.

Here he is, President Bush.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I think the president ought to do is he ought to get on the phone with the OPEC cartel and say, we expect you to open your spigots.


PRESS: That was last year. This year, no call to OPEC. No call to OPEC about lowering production. Vice President Cheney told CNN today, OPEC is not even part of picture. Come on, Congressman. Why isn't he on the phone to his buddies over there.

FOSSELLA: I think you're being -- buddies -- clearly, OPEC is a problem to the extent that it is a problem is that we're too reliant on foreign oil, and I think what the president is finally doing is trying to put forward a plan to the American people that increases our production, facilitates production across-the-board regardless of the energy source, but at the same time promote conservation and look to alternatives, alternative fuel supplies, whether it be natural gas or others.

And I think what's happened is that over the years, the last five, 10 years, as we've seen our economy grow, there have been too many people across the country have been saying no to all these things, and you cannot repeal the law of supply and demand, and what we're seeing now, unfortunately, is the American consumer is getting sacked at pump as a result.

CARLSON: Congressman Markey, good evening. There's an energy crisis looming, so there's surprise, of course, that politicians are looking for someone to blame. But of all the finger pointing going on, and we've looked at all of it, the research staff here has, we have found the single most ludicrous example of finger-pointing and here it is.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: I'm not satisfied at all with what the administration is doing with regard to gas prices. I think they've ignored it so far.


CARLSON: Ignored it so far. The administration has been here a little over 100 days. Consider the things we've known for more than a year: We need 300,000 more miles of natural gas pipeline; we need more than 1,000 more power plants. California has been running out of energy for quite some time. What has Clinton been doing for the last eight years? Taking credit for the tech boom, bragging about Where was Clinton, where have the Democrats been as this crisis has been building to this point.

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, first of all the Clinton administration had plentiful energy and a great economy for eight years. So, obviously, the biggest finger-pointing is the Bush administration trying to point backwards rather than looking at the problem right in front of them.

So, look at California. You have an increase ten-fold in the price of electricity. If Wonder bread went from $1.39 to $10.39 in year and a half's period, there'd be a dysfunction in the market. But the Bush administration electricity policy in California is a faith- based policy. We'll pray for you rather than intervening with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to control prices that are unjust and unreasonable.

They are saying we're just going to turn a blind eye and allow for these electricity prices to just rumble right through the economy in California and the far West. And when it comes to oil prices; yes, last year, they were criticizing Bill Clinton for not getting the concessions OPEC. They said it was tin-cup diplomacy.

Now, President Bush asks OPEC, they turn a deaf ear. He even asks his good buddy Vicente Fox, and Fox cuts off 100,000 barrels of oil a day that were going to the United States, even though he's part of NAFTA and this free trade agreement. So, the Bush administration, in addition, should be putting the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department, investigating any of these industries withholding energy from the market so that they tip American consumers upside down and shake money out of their pockets, which is going on all over the country.

CARLSON: Now, wait a second, Congressman, you do make one good point, and that is that the Clinton administration did have an energy policy, and part of that was to use the EPA to sue power companies under the Clean Air Act, which they did for eight years. The Bush administration now proposes to pull back on some of those lawsuits. If they do, the power industry estimates that power production will go up by 40,000 megawatts. That's about 5 percent of total power production in this country just by pulling back those lawsuits against coal-fired plants. How is this not a good idea?

MARKEY: I'll tell you why it's not a good idea, because there is not a national electricity crisis. There is crisis in California because they passed the stupidest law of all time five years ago, and Governor Wilson signed it. In the rest of the country, there is no electricity crisis, so you don't have to waive environmental laws when, in fact, there is plenty of electricity and the environment and health of the people who live in those regions of the country don't have to be sacrificed unnecessarily.

PRESS: Congressman Fossella, this whole energy task force and stuff is awfully deja vu to me. I mean, I remember eight years ago, we had a White House task force. This one was to look at health care, and it was headed by Hillary Clinton. Now, we're looking at energy policy and it's headed by Dick Cheney.

Remember, when Hillary was leading this task force, the Republicans on Capitol Hill, led by Bob Dole, were livid. They demanded that all those meetings be open, that the public know what was going on. This Cheney task force, by the way, is all secret. The meetings were all private and the members are sworn not to talk about the meetings.

Why don't you let a little sunshine into this, like you demanded of Hillary Clinton's task force?

FOSSELLA: Well, that's solar energy. More energy...

PRESS: But where is it? Where is it?

FOSSELLA: I think we got to give the president and his administration a break here. As Tucker brought out earlier, we're talking about a couple of months in office, and what you're talking about from years ago, and that is the failure to act -- the easiest thing that a member of Congress or someone else can do is to say no to everything. That is irresponsible.

There has not been a refinery built in this country in 25 years and as a result, we're seeing refineries approaching 100 percent capacity, and any sudden change in that is going to drive up the price. So, what the vice president is doing, given the benefit of the doubt -- they said they're going to come out with their plan next week and outline a comprehensive plan that I think the core principles will be to acknowledge that demand has grown and supply has failed to keep up; that we can promote conservation, protect the environment, at the same time investigate and evaluate and facilitate competition in alternative fuel sources.

PRESS: Well, every time I turn around, I hear this baloney that there hasn't been a refinery built in 25 years. I ask you, whose fault is that? I know a lot of places -- Texas; Louisiana; Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania -- they'd love to have new refineries. Why haven't they been building them? Why haven't they been disbanding them?

May I suggest the oil conditions didn't do it because they don't want any more refinery capacity because they love these high prices. Is that what they're doing?


FOSSELLA: The function of government is to establish a framework to allow these things to occur.

PRESS: Local government.

FOSSELLA: And ultimately -- well, local government obviously has a say. We see that in reformulated gasolines across the country. There are 15 different types of gasoline, three different grades, perhaps approaching 50 different types of gasoline. So, local governments and state governments have a say.

Getting back to what the long-term solution is and to avoid a short-term fix -- that is, to say nothing and do nothing -- but to set in place a framework to allow competition, to allow more supply to enter the market. And that over time will be the best answer and the best solution for economic growth and to protect the consumer.

CARLSON: Now, Congressman Markey, you mentioned supply, oil from Mexico and OPEC, but there is oil in the United States, there's oil in Alaska. There's even oil in ANWR in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge.

Now, you sent out a press release recently that said, we ought not even to consider drilling in ANWR. We shouldn't even think about it. Why? Because it might make some of it -- I'm not making this up -- the musk oxen in the region uncomfortable.

Now, how you can look at your constituents, an elderly widow on Social Security living in a trailer, heating the place with a Hibachi, because she can't afford natural gas or because her fuel bills are too high, and you don't want to displace the musk oxen. Isn't this environmentalism gone perhaps too far?

MARKEY: Here is the big truth: OPEC has 75 percent of the oil reserves in the world. The United States has 3 percent of the oil reserves in the world. If we are going to compete against OPEC, it shouldn't be on those terms. We are, on the other hand, the technological giant in the world.

If we made our SUVs, our automobiles, our air conditioners, every appliance more fuel efficient as we did from 1976 to 1986, we would bring OPEC to its knees. Should we drill in the most precious arctic wildlife refuge first, in order to bring oil down to California, so that it can be put into SUVs, getting 13 miles a gallon?

Or should we first look at the SUV? Look at the automobile? Look at the air conditioners. Make them more technologically efficient, not sacrificing, but in fact improving the quality of life in the United States, by giving them comfortable, fuel-efficient automobiles that consume less oil and as a result, bring OPEC to its knees.

We did it once before, in the '80s, we can do it again. But you haven't heard a single word from this administration about SUVs. You haven't heard a single word about air conditioners, except that they will roll back the standards, which should be imposed upon the industry to make themselves more efficient, even though 35 percent of all electricity in California is -- in the summer is air conditioning.

PRESS: All right, members of Congress, hold on there. Take a break. By the way, I just want to tell you how bad things are in California; we learned today that the San Diego Zoo, because of the energy crisis, is charging $1.50 energy assistance fee now to people who come to the zoo. We guess, that's to keep the lights on, or maybe the air conditioning, for the animals.

When we come back, how well is George Bush doing?

Does he risk becoming another Jimmy Carter dealing with another energy crisis? We will be right back.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

He was a southern governor. He ran for president as an outsider. He was elected. And popular, until the energy crisis hit. Now some White House aides are worried that what happened to Jimmy Carter could happen to George Bush.

Will this president get on top of the growing energy crisis? And what happens if he doesn't? Two members of Congress, both members of the House Energy Committee, debate the way out of our energy mess: Republican Vito Fossella of New York; and Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts. Tucker?

CARLSON: Congressman Markey, George W. Bush, as Jimmy Carter -- in fact, the thing that strikes me that the thing that Jimmy Carter has in common with the Democratic leadership of 2001, is that he was advocating austerity to a rich country as a solution to a problem that had other causes -- just to bring back bad memories, this is Jimmy Carter. Watch.


JAMES EARL CARTER, 39TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our program will emphasize conservation. The amount of energy being wasted which could be saved is greater than the total energy that we are importing from foreign countries.


CARLSON: That was Jimmy Carter from 1977 in his little sweater.

Now, tell me congressman, isn't it much more plausible that it would be -- I don't know, Tom Daschle or you, in fact, who would be the modern day Jimmy Carter, the person who tells a rich country that it can't, despite its prosperity, use its air conditioners or drive the cars it wants to drive. Why is always a Democratic solution more austerity? MARKEY: You know, there are so many red herrings in that very brief statement you made, we are going to have to bring in an aquarium to hold them all.


CARLSON: Take a swing.

MARKEY: Jimmy Carter was a nuclear engineer. He called for 500 new nuclear power plants by the year 2000. Jimmy Carter deregulated natural gas and oil in the United States.

But then he called for energy efficiency. Working smarter, not harder. How can we make automobiles more efficient? So, yeah, he had a balanced policy, and it hurt him, because he was willing to tell everyone in the country, we're going to have to make tough decisions.

CARLSON: But wait a second. It also didn't work. He didn't get those nuclear power plants; I'm wondering why. I mean, here is...

MARKEY: You want on to hear why?

CARLSON: There's no air pollution, there's no greenhouse emissions, France gets 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. I mean, if you are afraid of microwaves, I understand, but apart from that, how in the world could you be against nuclear power?

MARKEY: I am so glad that Lou Dobbs is coming back to CNN, so that he can explain to you that Ed Markey and Tom Daschle don't control the marketplace.

It's Republican Wall Street investment bankers. They look at gas-fired plants, they look at nuclear-fired plants. They say, oh, gas-fired cost less than half the price of building a new nuclear power plant.

I think for the last ten years we'll build all natural gas- generated electricity, because it's not economical to invest...


MARKEY: So, the capitalist system killed it. In France and in Japan, they have socialism. The government picks the winners. In the United States, capitalism, Wall Street picks the winners, and I'm with Wall Street.

PRESS: More socialism for me. Vito Fossella, looking at that Jimmy Carter clip, every word he said is true. There was just a "The New York Times" article on Sunday that reported that the scientists at five of our national labs, spent the last three years, studying this energy crisis.

Their conclusion was, reflecting Jimmy Carter, that with energy efficiency and new technologies and conservation, we could save from 20 to 40 percent of the energy, lower the demand by that much. And that report has not been released by the bush administration. Why? Don't you think it's because they don't care about conservation?

FOSSELLA: I think they're all part of the same plan. I disagree with that.

I think that you can have conservation, but you can also have an optimistic view of what this country can be and will be. I think where President Bush and President Carter differ perhaps in the view and the role of government, and the view and the role of we want to grow our economy, put more people to work, and trust the markets to the extent that we can, and at the same time, protect our environment, come up with alternative fuel supplies, and acknowledge a reality. Don't turn to the government for all the answers but turn to the government to facilitate a framework and to develop alternatives to what we've been seeing the last 10 to 20 years.

You cannot adequately keep prices low that -- that comes out of the consumers' pockets by failing to build the infrastructure needed. As demand grows and supply doesn't grow at all, or very little, sooner or later we have to pay the piper, and that's what the American people are doing right now, unnecessarily. But fortunately, we have a president who's looking forward.

PRESS: But isn't that part of it -- and Tucker alluded to what Jimmy Carter said. I mean, is it really realistic to tell the American people that they can have it all? Energy crisis or not, they can continue to drive cars to get 10 miles a gallon, they can leave their lights on, leave the air-conditioning on 24 hours a day, and never change -- make no sacrifice or no adjustment whatsoever. Is that really realistic?

FOSSELLA: Well, personally, I like to give more freedom to the American people to do...

PRESS: To waste?

FOSSELLA: Well, if they want to buy a Ford Expedition, let them buy it. If they want to buy that minivan for their family, a growing family, I say, let them do it. It's their choice to make, and I think that we can structure a program, not a perfect one, but that has promoting conservation as part of it. But also we cannot just rely upon conservation to save this problem -- to solve this problem and to reduce prices.

MARKEY: Can I get in on this for a second?

PRESS: Go ahead, congressman.

MARKEY: You know, Gerald Ford is going to receive the Profiles in Courage award up at the Kennedy Library in a couple of weeks for his pardoning of Richard Nixon. But he deserves the award for another reason: Although he came from Michigan in 1975, he said that we should double the economy standards for automobiles in the United States from 13 miles a gallon to 27 miles a gallon over the next 10 years. He did it. He signed that bill, even though he came from Michigan.

It brought OPEC to its knees. Oil dropped to $12 a barrel by 1986. We put two-thirds of all oil in the United States in gasoline tax. Today, we have slipped back to 24 miles a gallon because there are no standards on SUVs, because we have allowed ourselves to lose our technological edge over OPEC by allowing the auto industry to escape improvement in the fuel economy standards.

If it went up to 35 or 40 miles a gallon, OPEC would be back on its knees again.

CARLSON: OK, Congressman Markey, thank you for your words against SUVs. Vito Fossella, thank you. Good luck on the Energy Committee to both of you.

Bill Press and I will be back, conserving words and battling over energy in our closing comments. We'll be right back.


CARLSON: Hey, Bill, I got a new -- I got a new slogan for your party: Democrats, the party of the musk oxen. We can't drill in ANWR because the ox won't like it. It is the party against civilization, against the SUV, against air conditioning, against progress and fun and all the fruits of America.

PRESS: Democrats actually believe that we can save the environment and still have enough energy.

CARLSON: And the musk oxen.

PRESS: But I have a motto for the White House. This White House is the do-nothing White House. Last year, the president had to act to get those prices down. This year, they're saying we can do nothing, therefore, we're not even going to try. I have never seen such a...

CARLSON: Because he has the courage...

PRESS: ... defeatist president.

CARLSON: No, because he has the courage -- he had the courage to turn down the photo-op, which may be the most courageous thing a president can do.

PRESS: Just too lazy, Tucker.

CARLSON: Right, Bill. Please.

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

We'll see you later in "THE SPIN ROOM."

CARLSON: With Jocelyn Elders. Good night from the right. I'm Tucker Carlson. See you again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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