Veep, governor disagree "big time" on power. Plus: Dems ready to slam and jam the president's bench picks; celebs in Britain blast Bush on the environment.

Published May 9, 2001 5:20PM (EDT)

Rant: Cheney's California-bashing II

Dick Cheney gleefully took a slap at California Gov. Gray Davis Tuesday, painting Davis as a tree-hugging conservationist who is refusing to build new power plants in the middle of the state's energy crisis. In the administration's most pointed attacks on Davis' handling of the crisis to date, Cheney told CNN's John King that Democrats were trying to solve a power crunch caused by "relying only on conservation."

"What's happened in California, I would argue, is they've taken the route of saying, 'Well, we can conserve our way out of the problem. All we have to do is conserve; we don't have to produce any more power," Cheney said. "So they haven't built any electric power plants in the last 10 years in California, and today they've got rolling blackouts, because they don't have enough electricity; they've got rising prices; they've got a whole complex of problems that are caused by relying only on conservation and not doing anything about the supply side of the equation."

Of course, Davis says this is not true, calling Cheney "grossly uninformed" about the state's woes. Indeed, the governor has set conservation goals, and introduced new punitive measures for people who use too much power. He's going to charge big power consumers -- to quote a phrase -- big time if they don't cut back their intake. But the governor has also worked to bring new supply on board, fast-tracking new power plants in a state that has not seen a major plant built in more than 14 years -- 12 years under the rule of Republican governors.

"While no major power plants were built during the 12 years before I took office, my administration has approved 13 new plants, eight of which are currently under construction," Davis said in a statement released after the Cheney interview. "In addition, we've approved six peaker [small-scale] plants for this summer. No state in America is building more power plants than California."

Cheney's comments are the clearest evidence yet that the administration is trying to use the specter of an energy crisis to justify more oil drilling, exploration and construction of new power plants.

Cheney's statements only buttressed comments made by Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer that Americans have been endowed with the inalienable right not to have to conserve a damn thing. At a White House briefing earlier this week, a reporter asked Fleischer if the president believed that, given that the amount of energy Americans consume per capita is higher than in any other country in the world, does the president believe we need to correct our lifestyles to address the energy problem?

"The president believes that it's an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policymakers to protect the American way of life," Fleischer said. "The American way of life is a blessed one."

Cheney's statements Tuesday not only constituted a ratcheting up of the rhetoric over the energy crisis but also fudged the facts. When California stopped building power plants 12 years ago, there was a glut of cheap energy. Even now, though the boom in the high-tech economy and population increase have led to some increased demand pressures, California's energy crisis is primarily the product of a broken deregulation system and a faulty transmission grid -- not one of supply and demand.

Since the "out-of-state energy producers," as Davis so lovingly calls them, took control of the market, wholesale energy prices have skyrocketed. And through it all, the federal government has sat back and watched California suffer. Time and time again, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, run by Bush appointees, has refused to reregulate the market, despite pleas from Golden State Democrats, and even some congressional Republicans. The FERC has been largely inactive even though their own investigation into the higher energy prices has shown that energy producers are gouging California customers. Not their problem.

The California crisis is a political twofer for the Bush-Cheney administration. Not only do Cheney and Bush get to help their buddies in the power biz, but they get to watch Democrat Davis try to tread water. Notice how nobody's calling Davis a presidential contender for 2004 anymore?

-- Anthony York

Daily line

"The president's message is that the nominees he is going to send up are going to be people that the nation will be proud of. There are going to be people who will not legislate from the bench, there will be judicial scholars, there will be people who will represent the nation well serving on the courts. And he hopes to take that message to Democrats and Republicans alike."
-- White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer

Bush buzz

The president announces his first 11 nominees to the federal judiciary Wednesday afternoon. Though he has reportedly warned the group that they're in for a rough ride, Bush is hoping to spare his administration a full-scale battle with Democrats over his choices.

Any concessions by Bush will probably fall short of placating the opposition. The views represented by some of the nominees on hot-button issues like school vouchers, gay rights, campaign finance and abortion could doom them even among Democrats who have expressed willingness to compromise -- not that there's ever been much bipartisan spirit in dealing with judicial appointments.

When he delivers his nominations, Bush will step into an ugly partisan feud that has been building in the Senate for years. During the Clinton administration, Republican leaders allowed a single senator to effectively block a judicial nominee. The GOP used that rule to delay proceedings on some Clinton nominees literally for years. But with Bush in the White House, Republican leaders want to change the rule so that the president's picks sail through more easily, and Democrats are crying foul.

Though Bush's judicial nominees are in for a hard time in Congress, his budget and tax plan seem to be approaching the legislative finish line. Congressional Republicans believe they have completed the final outline of a $1.97 trillion budget. Though a group of moderate Senate Democrats had planned to stall the budget talks to get an increase in education funding, that coalition has splintered.

In other administration news, the president dropped an additional job into the crowded lap of Vice President Cheney. Cheney is to head a national task force aimed at combating the threat of terrorist action in the United States. In addition, a permanent office within the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be devoted to coordinating the nation's response to chemical, biological or nuclear attacks.

Cheney touched on the subject during a Tuesday morning interview with CNN's John King, but spent much of his time hyping the forthcoming outline of the administration's energy policy. The vice president said that, in addition to supporting an expanded domestic supply of fossil fuels, the plan promotes cleaner sources of energy and conservation as methods of alleviating energy shortages. Skeptical environmentalists probably won't buy the administration's green overtures, especially considering that Cheney also suggested building a permanent national nuclear waste dump so that the country can better manage that source of energy.

Energy was also on Bush's mind when he spoke before the Electronic Industries Alliance on Tuesday night. In his remarks, the president said that he was worried about what energy shortages could mean for California businesses. "I'm concerned about rolling blackouts in California," Bush said. "I'm concerned what that could mean to entrepreneurial growth and to the high-tech industry." Though both Bush and Cheney have repeatedly expressed their concern about California's energy problems, the president has yet to travel to the state, and he won't stop there when he travels next week to promote his energy plan.

And don't miss the president's radio ads for Pennsylvania congressional candidate Bill Shuster, Bush's first ad campaign since he won the White House. Also, celebrities like Bianca Jagger and Ralph Fiennes are urging citizens of Great Britain to boycott Exxon's sister company there to protest the Bush administration's environmental policies.

Wednesday schedule: Bush will meet with the Yugoslavian president Wednesday morning and announce his first round of federal judicial appointees in the afternoon.

-- Alicia Montgomery

This day in Bush history

May 9, 1996: Texas Gov. George W. Bush created a task force to study how faith-based programs could help the state assist Texans in need.

Burning Bush

Links to the Web's best sites for hardcore Bush watchers.

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Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

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