|FUELING THE DEBATE|
September 29, 2000
Excerpts from speeches by the two leading presidential candidates on energy and the environment followed by analysis from syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
JIM LEHRER: Oil, energy, the environment were on the agendas of both major presidential candidates today. We have excerpts from both of their speeches. First, Governor Bush speaking this morning in Saginaw, Michigan, at a factory that makes equipment for car manufacturers:
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Since this administration took office, America's need for oil has increased by 14 percent. Over the same period, our imports of foreign oil have increased by more than a third. Never before has our country been more dependent on foreign supplies. Today we import 56 percent of our oil. In 20 years, on our current path that figure could be as high as two-thirds. Meanwhile, our own production of crude oil is at the lowest level in 50 years. And our refining capacity has not kept pace with demand.
Let me put it plainly: Oil consumption is increasing, our production is dropping, our imports of foreign oil are skyrocketing, and this administration has failed to act. As a result, America more than ever is at the mercy of foreign governments and cartels, at the mercy of big foreign oil. Now, just weeks before an election, this administration, in a calculated political move, has decided to tap crude oil from the strategic petroleum reserve. Their plan calls for the release of 30 million barrels, about 36 hours worth of consumption in the United States economy. At best, we merely swap slightly lower prices before the election for higher prices after November 7.
But releasing oil from the strategic petroleum reserve also leaves our country even more vulnerable to foreign suppliers, including Saddam Hussein. Every barrel of strategic reserve we release today for political reasons is one less barrel we have for threats to our nation's security. The strategic reserve is meant for a foreign war, or a major I disruption in supply, not for national elections. It's a petroleum reserve, not a political reserve.
Our nation must actively build its long-term energy security. First, I will make energy security a priority of my foreign policy. I will use the tools of diplomacy to increase the flow of crude oil from foreign suppliers. I will rebuild America's influence and credibility with the members of OPEC and with the nations in the Persian Gulf. I will also support energy exploration in non-OPEC nations, places like the Caspian Sea basin and Western and Southern Africa to help diversify the world's resources.
I will encourage more energy exploration and production here at home while protecting the environment. We should open a small fraction of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for responsible oil and gas exploration, exploration that will be environmentally sound. We're now paying a steep price for seven and a half years without an energy policy. Americans are concerned about the staying power of our prosperity and more immediately, they're concerned about paying their bills in the winter to come. But before the cold of December comes November and one day of decision. On election day, we can put our country on a new and better course. Thank you very much.
JIM LEHRER: Then a short time later, Vice President Gore spoke at the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Today I want to focus on the right and responsible way to make sure America has a clean, secure, and affordable energy future, while protecting the environment for generations to come. They are not at odds with one another. For me, this issue has always been fundamental. I believe that pollution should never be the price of prosperity. I believe that we don't have to degrade our environment in order to secure our energy future, and that is one of the most important differences in this election.
The other side now proposes to misuse high oil prices as an excuse to let oil companies invade precious national treasures, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. If you entrust me with the presidency, I will not let that happen. (Applause) I will fight for consumers, who deserve a reliable, affordable supply of energy, and I will fight for all Americans, who deserve to have our environment protected against those who would set the oil companies loose in the most beautiful, fragile parts of our nation. Strong economic leadership demands swift and decisive action to deal with emerging threats to our prosperity, even when that action is controversial. The fact is, oil company profits have more than doubled, while consumers have paid much more at the pump, and businesses have paid much more just to stay in business.
Last week I urged Congress to create a home heating oil reserve to provide continuing help in our coldest regions. I'm asking congress to increase annual heating assistance for low-income families, and I supported a series of oil swaps from our nation's strategic petroleum reserve. Companies that receive oil now from the reserve will return that amount and more to the reserve at a later date. The nation will have greater oil supplies now and our national reserve will have even more oil in the years ahead.
I was criticized for this policy, but I became convinced that waiting had not worked and inaction was no longer an option. And any political heat that was generated is a lot less important than the heat families need this winter. Now, here is the bottom line on the other side's plan: No real action to bring oil prices down now; no real investment in new environmental technology; no real prospect of freeing ourselves from dependence on big oil and foreign oil; and a clear, unmistakable agenda that would sacrifice the environment for short-sighted and short-term energy policies and would not even yield a single drop of additional oil for years and years to come. Now, some people might support that, but I don't, and I don't think the American people do, and I don't think they'll buy that line of argument thank you and God bless you. Let's win this fight!
|A good argument|
JIM LEHRER: And to Shields and Gigot with analysis of the energy issue. That's, of course, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, so who got the best of that exchange?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't know of the direct exchange result, Jim. I do think it's a good argument for Bush to make, though. I think it is because it takes a little bit of the bloom off the boom. I mean, the oil price rise has increased the number of people who have sensed that everything is not perfect. And there may be some doubt about the prosperity continuing, and it increases anxiety and that helps a challenger. It increases the case for change -- the battleground survey, which is a pretty good bipartisan survey has the wrong track numbers at 46, the right track at 43....
JIM LEHRER: You mean, the country is headed down the right road or not headed down the right road.
PAUL GIGOT: That's right. For most of this year, it's been the other way. So I think that helps Bush by and large.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
MARK SHIELDS: I agree in part. Let me just say to my conservative friends what I've said about the economy now for six years: cheer up -- eventually things will get worse. In a week when the poverty rate among those over 65 is the lowest ever recorded, when the income for the bottom fifth of the population is growing faster than any other group, which has been one of the criticisms of the Clinton boom that the income disparity all of a sudden, for the bottom fifth who had been left behind is growing, when the poverty rate overall is the lowest it has been in 21 years. You get this information. George W. Bush needed this issue. There is no question about it. He has not been able to get traction on the economy. And I think he does on this one. I think...
JIM LEHRER: Why?
MARK SHIELDS: I think he does because the administration, which I think has been pretty darned effective politically, it's response, and the Gore campaign's has not been consistent or coherent. First they blamed it on the Republican Congress, blamed it on the big oil companies...
JIM LEHRER: You mean high prices.
|Not energy independent|
MARK SHIELDS: The Republican Congress had not acted on their proposals. And you know, they just have... I think the issue, Jim, quite frankly of energy independence resonates with Americans. We have not been energy independent... we've talked about it since 1973. It has never developed. I think for the out party, it is a good issue. There is no question about it.
JIM LEHRER: Traction, Paul,, or do you think eats two or three days or it's going to last as an issue?
PAUL GIGOT: I think it's going to be playing for longer than that. I assume it will come up in the debates. I do think, though, that Bush pulled his punches in one way, and that is he didn't make the tax issue. I mean, if you're going to do something immediately to reduce gas prices, one of the things you can do is reduce the gas tax, and particularly with Al Gore having casting the deciding vote, the vote he is proud of in 1993, to raise the tax, that would have been a good issue. And he didn't, and didn't because he was afraid, I think, that the Republican Congress wants to spend money and especially on the highways, and would have opposed him. I think this is a case where the Republicans in Washington are making it harder for Bush to make his argument.
JIM LEHRER: That make sense to you?
MARK SHIELDS: The Republican Congress wants to spend money like Paul Gigot imagined Lyndon Johnson wanted to spend money.
PAUL GIGOT: Imagined?
MARK SHIELDS: These guys are just... I mean Jim, we've had the politics of deficits. They can't deal with the politics of surpluses. I think Al Gore missed a bet this week. I think Al Gore should have stood up and said look, sure, we're dealing with a cartel here. We're not talking about the market. We're dealing with somebody who meets behind closed doors, rigs prices.
JIM LEHRER: You're talking about OPEC.
MARK SHIELDS: All of this, and what did I do - what do we do? We tapped the petroleum reserve. The other side don't do it. What happened? Oil and gasoline prices went down this week. Now anybody else want to talk about it?
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Don't go away.