Cheney: Price Caps Don't Work

Vice President Dick Cheney is offering few encouraging words for Democrats seeking immediate relief for California's energy crisis.

"They got into trouble in California over a period of years, and it's going to take two or three years to get out of it," Cheney said Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation. "There are going to be blackouts this summer."

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she was appalled that President Bush is not considering price caps or investigating companies she said are charging exorbitant prices for electricity. She noted that both Cheney and Bush are former oil industry executives.

"It's really rather stunning because those of us who are living through this have suggested many things," Boxer said on CBS. "So the vice president sits very coolly, and I admire his cool, but he really sounds like an oilman, not a vice president charged with helping the people."

If dairy farmers sought as much profit as oil companies -- in some cases, 1,600 percent -- a gallon of milk would cost $190, she said.

But Cheney, chief architect of the administration energy plan released last week, said capping prices would not increase energy supplies or reduce demand.

"We get politicians who want to go out and blame somebody and allege there is some kind of conspiracy, whether it's the oil companies or whoever it might be, instead of dealing with the real issues," Cheney told NBC's Meet the Press."

He criticized California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, for what he called a "harebrained scheme" to use the state's budget surplus to buy power.

For the short term, the administration has approved Davis' request to expedite permits for new power plants and has ordered federal facilities in California to reduce energy consumption this summer by 10 percent.

Cheney said the answer to long-term price stability lies in building more oil refineries in the United States and in reviewing a system whereby different states require different blends of fuel -- some mixed with the corn additive ethanol, for example -- to meet clean air standards.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Congress should look into at least temporarily suspending the 18.4-cent-a-gallon federal gasoline tax

Cheney said, however, that would pose problems for the highway trust fund, which relies on that tax to build and maintain the nation's transportation infrastructure.

Describing himself as a "pretty good environmentalist," Cheney also responded to criticism by some environmental groups that he did not meet with them before issuing the energy plan because he is beholden to energy producers who gave millions of dollars to the Bush election campaign.

"I couldn't begin to sit down with all of those various groups. I didn't have time," he said.

Environmental Protection Agency chief Christie Whitman, who appeared on three Sunday talk shows, said the administration is doing everything within its power to help California, "while still protecting the public health" from toxic emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said on Fox News Sunday that price caps would only hurt California in the long run.

"There are peak problems right now because California hasn't brought any new supply into place in 10 years, no new facilities, and so they've got an imbalance, but the way to solve it isn't price caps. That'll only make matters worse," Abraham said.

He also said instability in the Middle East should motivate the United States to increase domestic production, including exploring for fuel in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

"We're not going to beg" the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to release their oil, Abraham told Fox and CNN's Late Edition.

Cheney said he has spoken with Saudi leaders but has sought price stability rather than lower prices, which he said would only shoot up again.