As Congress and the public began to choose sides in the energy debate, President Bush marched forward Friday with some plans that don't need congressional approval.
Bush ordered all federal agencies, before they issue any kind of regulations, to consider their impact on energy supplies, and to expedite permits so that energy projects don't get "snarled in bureaucratic tangles as local governments or entrepreneurs seek permit after permit from agency after agency."
"The statement of energy impact is not a red light preventing any agency from taking any action. 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," Bush said.
Bush signed the executive orders after checking out a fish elevator designed to minimize the habitat disruption at a hydroelectric project along the Susquehanna River -- a trip outside Washington meant to underscore his argument that conservation is compatible with his call for massively increased oil, coal and nuclear energy development.
"This dam is a symbol of the new age of environmental possibilities," Bush told an assembly gathered outside the Safe Harbor Corporation project at the river's edge.
"It's powering Pennsylvania's economy while at the same time restoring Pennsylvania wildlife. It goes to show that economic growth and a good environmental policy do not have to be zero sum. I doesn't have to be either-or."
Even as Bush highlighted hydroelectric power, he admitted his own doubt that such so-called renewable energy sources, including solar and wind power, can ever replace oil and gas.
"I hope someday that these renewables will be the dominant source of energy in America. I'm not so sure how realistic that is," Bush said.
As Bush travels the nation trying to build support, signs of deep divisions on energy are abundant, foreshadowing a bitter debate in Congress on the many items in Bush's plan that will require lawmakers' approval.
Upstream from the Conestoga project that Bush visited, the Sierra Club was rallying at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, site of a reactor meltdown two decades ago. "Wouldn't a trip to Three Mile Island be more honest?" read an ad that the club ran in local newspapers.
Some 200 protesters demonstrated outside Bush's speech Thursday in St. Paul, Minn., criticizing him for underemphasizing alternative energy sources such as solar power. Another 50 stood outside a remote energy research facility he visited in Nevada, Iowa; One person hoisted a sign that read, "Bush-Cheney: Fossil Fools."
In Washington, House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt said Bush's plan "really looks like the Exxon Mobil annual report."
In power-strapped California, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis accused Bush of "turning a blind eye to the bleeding and hemorrhaging that exists in this state."
Environmental groups denounced the plan too. "The Bush plan is a recipe for higher energy bills and more pollution," said David Hawkins, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate Center.
Bush sought to defuse the criticism in a pair of speeches Thursday, each stressing that he intends to strike a balance between the environment and exploration.
He forcefully defended what is perhaps the least popular element in his plan, a call to open up a portion of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, insisting the exploration can be done safely.
"In Arctic sites like ANWR, we can build roads of ice that literally melt away when summer comes, and the drilling then stops to protect wildlife," he said.
Bush's ANWR proposal has already met fierce resistance on Capitol Hill, even among some fellow Republicans.
But Bush aides believe they can seize the upper hand, now that his long-awaited plan is public. They say the pressure is now on Democratic critics to address the nation's energy problems.
Any delays in consideration of Bush's plan "risk leaving lights off and risk high gas prices," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Nevertheless, he said, "The Congress is going to put its stamp on this proposal."
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham called environmental critics "alarmists," during an appearance on NBC's "Today."
And, turning to criticism from former President Carter, Abraham said Carter "presided over probably the worst era in terms of energy policy in American history. We don't want to repeat those mistakes."