California Democrats, Republicans Divided over Bush Energy Plan

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Contra Costa Times

 SACRAMENTO, Calif.–Using a two-pronged strategy, Gov. Gray Davis responded to President Bush‘s energy plan Thursday by assailing its lack of immediate help for California while at the same time making a plea for greater assistance.

Davis implored Bush to reconsider pursuing price caps on runaway wholesale electricity costs and forcing generators to pay California billions of dollars in refunds.

The governor made the pitch at a Capitol press conference, where he shifted between sharp rhetoric, characterizing the situation at one point as “a war” with Texas generators, and a tender appeal, describing Bush as a “practical person” who “could do the right thing.”

“Mr. President, you didn’t create this problem, but you are the only one who can solve it,” Davis said. “With all due respect, Mr. President, Californians want to know whether you’re going to be on their side.”

Meanwhile, other Democrats, consumer advocates and environmentalists blasted the president’s national energy plan, calling it irresponsible and unresponsive to California’s pressing needs.

Bush made public an energy policy that focuses on increasing production, from building nuclear power plants to drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He also called for creating a national power grid to better transmit electricity to where it is needed throughout the country.

“For big oil and other suppliers, the Bush energy plan is a dream come true,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a written statement. “But among those most left behind are the people and businesses of California, who have been under siege by electricity and natural gas marketers bent on gouging every cent they can from a broken energy market that the Bush administration has refused to help remedy.”

As for Davis, he encouraged federal regulators to order energy generators to pay back to California much of the $ 6 billion state officials claim the companies overcharged for electricity. And the governor asked Bush once again to consider some form of price caps despite the president’s stated opposition to the idea.

“I’m saying, ‘Be creative. Find a way to keep the $ 27 billion bill we paid last year for electricity from going to a $ 50 billion bill this year,”‘ Davis said. Later, the governor added: “I think his long-term approach is basically on track, but for those of us who are already in immediate peril, it offers no relief.”

Republicans, on the other hand, lauded the Bush plan and said it sets the right course for the state and the country. Assemblyman John Campbell, R-Irvine, said the president did precisely what he needed to do: develop a national policy.

“The reality is California is having this problem now, not Arizona, not Nevada, not New Mexico, and the reason for that is that so much of what we have has been caused by policies in California,” Campbell said.

Consumer advocates and environmentalists, however, condemned the energy policy. Jay Watson, regional director of the Wilderness Society, said despite including some programs aimed at increasing conservation, the Bush administration has reduced conservation to “nothing more than a personal virtue.”

“We’re looking at one of the gravest threats to America’s public lands that we’ve seen in a long time,” Watson said.

Harvey Rosenfield, president of the nonprofit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said Bush has failed to break a cartel of energy companies that wield similar power over California as OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, did over the United States during the oil crisis of the early 1970s.

“The federal government could stop this assault and order rate reductions and refunds of overcharges,” Rosenfield said. “Instead, the Bush-Cheney plan calls for more deregulation, massive tax breaks for energy companies and the construction of multibillion-dollar boondoggles like nuclear power, all of which will benefit the same energy companies that are holding California hostage.”

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