Bush Sounds Energy Alarm

As new blackouts rolled across California again today, the White House sounded the alarms about an energy crisis that will take some time to solve.

President Bush, the world's most powerful former oilman, said there are "no short-term fixes" to shortages of affordable energy to power the nation. The nation needs to cut demand, Bush said, and increase supply.

"The solution for our energy shortage requires long-term thinking and a plan that we'll implement that will take time to bring to fruition," Bush said today after a meeting with his energy task force. "And it not only includes good conservation, but as well exploration for oil and gas and coal and development of energy sources that exist within in our 50 states."

Vice President Dick Cheney is heading up the team, which Bush has tasked with coming up with a comprehensive plan this spring to fix the nation's energy problems. A key figure at the table with Cheney is Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, who warned today that rising energy prices could compound the economic slowdown and push the economy into a recession.

"This nation's last three recessions have all been tied to rising energy prices," Abraham said. "And there is strong evidence that the latest critis is already having a negative effect."

Reliance on Foreign Supplies Troubles White House

The White House is increasingly troubled by the nation's rising dependence on foreign energy sources and is reviewing steps, including energy exploration and development on federal lands like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to deal with the problem.

Bush is walking a fine rhetorical line, using talk of a crisis to justify the need to make politically controversial moves. Last week, Bush used talk of "energy crisis" to back up his reversal on a campaign pledge to reduce emissions from power plants. The president also has warned about troubles that threaten the economy to bolster his call for $1.6 trillion in tax cuts to stimulate spending.

But as he delivers a gloomy short-term outlook, Bush is trying to insulate himself from criticism from Democrats who say he is talking the economy into a recession by taking a bullish approach to discussing the long-term.

"I'm very confident about our economy," Bush said today at an appearance with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. "I know it can beat expectations."

Bush also said he saw an upside to OPEC's decision to cut crude oil output, applauding Saudi Arabia for pledging to keep prices at a reasonable level. The real problem, Bush said, has less to do with what OPEC does to the spigot but with the lack of refineries in the United States to turn that crude into gasoline.