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Bush orders new regs surveyed for 'energy impact'

President Bush
Bush tells a Pennsylvania audience: "The fuel that powers our economy should never be a second thought."  

By Ian Christopher McCaleb
CNN Washington Bureau

CONESTOGA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- President Bush moved quickly Friday to change the federal government's mindset when it considers new rules and regulations that could affect energy pricing and consumption, telling a Pennsylvania audience he wanted to put his long-range energy strategy into quick action.

Following Thursday's release of his 163-page national energy policy blueprint, the president signed two executive orders in Conestoga, Pennsylvania, where he visited a hydroelectric complex and addressed an enthusiastic crowd.

"I was elected to solve problems, not just hold the office," Bush said, adding his administration believes the United States will experience in massive energy crunch in the next 10 to 20 years if action is not taken now to encourage short-term conservation and boost long-term supplies.

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The Energy Crunch
Bush proposals to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil

"We can't solve these problems without a plan, and that is why I have laid one out," Bush said. "We want to take it on. We want to lead the people."

Following his address, Bush signed the orders as Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and EPA Administrator Christie Whitman looked on.

The first order, Bush said, "would bring new energy projects online faster," and the second was intended to keep regulators focused on the energy impact of any decisions they may make.

"The fuel that powers our economy should never be a second thought," he said.

The order also establishes a new task force that will investigate how "good projects" can be moved through the permit application process as quickly as possible, he said. The task force, he said, would be headed by the chairman of the Council of Environmental Quality, which falls under the executive branch.

The second order signed Friday will require any agency that proposes a major regulatory action to include a so-called energy impact statement, "if the decision will have and adverse affect on energy supply, distribution or use," Bush said.

The statement must describe reasonable alternatives if energy supply or distribution is to be affected if and when a regulation goes into effect.

"This statement of energy impact is not a red light preventing any agency from taking any action," Bush said. "It is a yellow light that says, 'Pause and think before you make decisions that squeeze consumers' pocketbooks, that may cause energy shortages, or that may make us more dependent on foreign energy.'"

Campaign-style persuasion

The Thursday release of Bush's energy policy outline has allowed the president to resume his campaign-style day-trips, in which he jets to friendly territory to persuade receptive crowds to boost his efforts.

The president mounted similar efforts early in administration on education reform, his tax cut scheme and his budget plan.

In Conestoga, he urged his assemblage to "stand up and let 'em have it" when somebody castigates his administration's opponents in the brewing energy debate.

"This is an administration that is committed to putting the people ahead of politics and talking about dialog and discussing important issues in a way that will bring honor to the process," Bush said.

"This is too important an issue to allow the rhetoric to deteriorate," he said.

Bush's energy plan, drafted by a task force led by Vice President Dick Cheney, calls on federal agencies to take dramatic steps to reduce regulations on the energy industry to encourage more output from coal-fired plants; recommends the construction of more than 1,300 new power plants and calls for new oil and gas exploration -- including some on federal lands that environmentalists and many in Congress believe should be off-limits.

The 163-page report suggests the country faces the worst energy crisis since the 1970s, and in addition to an array of incentives for the industry, also includes a package of tax and other stimuli designed to promote conservation, energy efficiency, and wider development and use of alternative and renewable fuels.

Congressional Democrats and environmental groups have voiced opposition to the strategy.

Abraham said one of the thrusts of the Energy Department under his watch will be to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

"This plan addresses the need for us to meet America's energy challenge in a balanced way -- to conserve and be more energy efficient, and increase energy supplies to meet the growing demand of the next 20 years," he said. "We have become too dependent on foreign sources.

"This isn't a particularly wise strategy to follow."

Whitman guaranteed the EPA would work with the rest of the administration to avoid environmental degradation.

"I have a charge -- that we never denigrate what nature has given us, that we protect it, and we will do that with this plan," she said.

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