Californians fault Bush energy proposal

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The Associated Press

Many Californians, struggling with sharply higher gasoline prices and rising electricity rates, found little comfort in President Bush‘s national energy plan released Thursday.

Government officials, environmental groups and energy consumers saw no immediate relief from a summer of rolling blackouts or the specter of even higher rates.

“I don’t really think he has my concerns as his priority,” said Jodi Reynolds, 38, a Culver City legal secretary. “I can already see that I need to conserve energy. I don’t need the president to tell me that.”

Some people gave Bush credit for addressing the nation’s long-term energy needs, but faulted the president for not doing more for California now.

“We give him kudos for addressing the supply issue,” said Brian Bennett, vice president of external affairs for Southern California Edison, one of the state’s cash-strapped electric utilities.

“However, when it comes to addressing the California crisis, the Bush administration has chosen to ignore what they could have done to help lessen the crisis here – impose on a short term basis cost-based pricing on the wholesale market.”

Gov. Gray Davis continued his broadside against large power wholesalers headquartered in Bush’s home state.

“We are literally in a war with energy companies, many of which reside in Texas,” Davis said. “Californians wants to know if (Bush) is going to be on their side.”

That theme ran through some of the comments by the state’s environmental and consumer groups.

“In the last energy crisis, a handful of nations in the Middle East had us over a barrel,” said Harvey Rosenfield, head of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica. “Now it’s a handful of energy companies in the Southern United States. The only solution is to bust the Texas-based OPEC.”

Environmentalists said Bush’s energy policy lacks proposals that could offer short-term relief from higher electricity and gasoline prices, such as power price controls, incentives for more efficient appliances and tighter fuel-efficiency requirements for vehicles.

The Bush plan also steps away from assurances he made during the campaign that he would not rescind a moratorium on new offshore oil leases created by his father and extended until 2012 by President Clinton. The plan calls for the secretaries of commerce and the interior to re-examine the moratorium.

“We are concerned what he is stepping toward,” said Allison Detmer, manager of the ocean and resources unit of the state Coastal Commission, which is suing the federal government over the existing leases. “This might be the first step toward opening up the coast again.”

Some utility and government officials said Bush correctly focused on expanding the nation’s energy infrastructure, building more natural gas pipelines and strengthening the electricity transmission grid.

But the president’s support for new nuclear power plants won little support.

“The political realities in California are we’re not going to see an increased reliance to nuclear power in the near future,” said Carl Wood, a member of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Perhaps predictably, state Democrats found little to like in Bush’s plan, while Republicans found much to praise.

“The president’s plan will help California this summer by expediting new power plants and ordering state agencies to conserve,” said Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Escondido.

“There’s nothing in there for California. Nothing,” said Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Los Angeles. “The headline is: Bush to California, drop dead.”

Californians who are already being asked to use less electricity because of the state’s power crisis weren’t sure how much more they could cut back if the president asked them to conserve.

“It’s kind of hard to cut back when we’re probably using the minimum,” said Bruce Byers, 46, a Pasadena stockbroker. “And I’m not going to cut back (on driving). I won’t. I can’t.”

“We only use the lights when we have to,” said Sonny Milano, 34, a resident of suburban Los Angeles who works for an attorney service. “We’re not into candles yet. That might be next.”

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