NEW YORK – Reaction to President George W. Bush's energy plan was varied and strong, with Republicans and energy-industry groups praising his long-term vision and Democrats and environmental groups saying he was condemning the country to a disastrous environmental future.
"For too long America has been asleep at the wheel on the highway to the energy future," said National Mining Association President and CEO Jack Gerard. "We have not checked to see how empty our tank really is."
Critics responded bluntly.
"We think the President's plan makes the wrong choices for America and the American people," House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt said. "It was crafted behind closed doors with a lot of input from energy executives, and in a highly secretive way that doesn't serve the public interest. It focuses on drilling and production at the expense of our environment and conservation. And it does nothing to help people who need relief right now."
Bush's plan focused on emphasizing nuclear power while building up America's supplies of oil and coal with increased drilling on public lands.
"If we fail to act, this country could face a darker future," Bush said. "If we fail to act, Americans will face more and more widespread blackouts ... our country will become more reliant on foreign crude oil."
Republicans supported the package, saying a comprehensive plan was long in coming.
"Today we have an energy policy," Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski said.
But they also acknowledged parts of it would be the subject of heated debate.
"It is a work in progress," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., adding that "the case has to be made" for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling plans.
Bush's plans to open up the Arctic National Wildlife refuge to oil drilling have already brought stinging rebukes from a wide variety of groups and from former president Jimmy Carter, who himself lost reelection in 1980 partly because of his handling of the country's energy woes.
Capitol Hill Dems promised to staunchly defend the preserve, with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle vowing that the move wouldn't make it past Congress, and Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone saying he'd filibuster it if necessary.
Bush was also supported by the high-tech trade association AeA, formerly the American Electronics Association, which urged Democrats to work with Republicans and environmentalists to work with the energy industry, to keep the U.S. competitive and clean for the next century.
"This energy issue is too critical to America's future well being for it to be a victim of rigid ideologies, short-term thinking and partisan bickering," AeA president and CEO William T. Archey said. "Energy is a national challenge, not one isolated to a particular state or region. It demands concerted national leadership. ... Quite simply, far too much is at stake for America."
The vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers lauded Bush for addressing the energy infrastructure that must be fed to keep U.S. industry running smoothly enough to expand. He cited Bush's commitment to research and development and a deep energy supply that treads a reasonable line between keeping America powered up and pollution-free.
"Clearly, a long-term energy strategy is needed, and we applaud the administration for putting forward this opening salvo. Like the environment, our energy supply is fundamental to our prosperity and deserves such analysis," NAM Executive Vice President Michael E. Baroody said. "Despite advance press reports to the contrary, it is apparent that the Bush administration is giving energy efficiency its due."
Those comments came in deep contrast to statements from environmental groups. Minutes after Bush delivered his speech, the League of Conservation Voters said it was nothing short of appalled, accusing the president and Vice President Dick Cheney of kowtowing to the energy industry.
"Bush's dirty, unbalanced, irresponsible energy policy has placed the special oil and coal interests that funded his campaign over the public's interest in a clean, reliable, safe, and affordable energy supply," LCV president Deb Callahan said. "What [the American public] got from President Bush was a plan that increases America's reliance on the inefficient, destructive fossil fuels of the past that pollute our air and water."
Philip E. Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, said that while the Bush administration had made much of the California power crisis, the plan unveiled today has few short-term answers for that state.
"The President's plan won't produce affordable energy for Americans now, or 10 years from now," he said. "What the President's plan will do is drive up air pollution in our cities and turn the last 5 percent of our public lands that we've protected for future generations over to the oil and coal companies. President Bush's message to California is: 'Drop dead.'"
But perhaps the clearest criticism so far was delivered by Greenpeace, which dumped tons of coal and barrels of oil outside the vice president's home.
"The Bush/Cheney energy plan is not an energy plan, it's an energy scam. The Bush/Cheney plan could have been written by the oil industry, the coal industry and the nuclear power industry," said Greenpeace activist Andrea Durbin.
Police took down the names of protesters involved in the dumping, but were no immediate arrests.