Energize!

The two former oilmen now occupying the highest offices in the land have been drilling energy-policy test wells with the American people. Now, they're engaging Americans in a healthy, and long overdue, energy debate.

But both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have a bit more exploration to do when it comes to proving to the American people - who can be "show me" Missourian on energy topics - that their viewpoint and numbers are correct (see story, page 1).

Cheney's energy speech this week laid out a strategy that relies on continued, and increased, use of fossil fuels and revived nuclear power. Rejecting price controls and tapping the country's strategic petroleum reserves, Cheney argues that Americans will need between 1,300 and 1,900 new power plants to meet - and note this word - "projected" increases in demand.

Cheney also says the country can't "simply conserve or ration our way out of the situation we're in." He's right - conservation is not in itself the big answer. But Americans still will need to make some tough energy choices when they think about buying the next SUV or powering the explosion of electric-powered gizmos dominating so much of modern life.

Conservation - along with a substantial, continuing investment in alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power - won't get the country through gasoline and electric-power crunches this summer, but they should be a stronger part of Cheney's comprehensive plan for meeting longer-term energy needs.

Another long-term need is pollution control, heightened by the administration's emphasis on traditional fossil-fuel energy sources. Cheney holds up nuclear power as a pollution-free technology. That's true with regard to carbon dioxide and other byproducts of burning coal, gas, or oil. But nuclear power brings its own set of problems, most notably how to dispose of radioactive wastes.

With all their energy options, Americans need to weigh the short-term benefits and long-term costs - whether it's more nuclear plants or more drilling in Alaska. This energy debate's not about a lack of resources but how to pay for extraction, safety and pollution controls, and adequate distribution.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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