Analysis: California, "land of fruits and nuts," must sweat out summer

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Is this an insight into why the U.S. Government, and even the majority of the American people, are willing to allow the State of California to collapse into insolvency and depression. And if so, will the cascading effects, due to this attitude, "backfire" on the Nation, or even world?

Hyperlink: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/05/18/MN71543.DTL&type=printable

Bush faces tough fight on energy strategy

ANALYSIS: Californians must sweat out summer Marc Sandalow, Washington Bureau Chief

Friday, May 18, 2001

Copyright 2001 San Francisco Chronicle, Fair Use for Educational and Research Purposes Only

URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/05/18/MN71543.DTL&type=news

Washington -- The White House's reluctance to bail California out of its electricity woes was made plain by President Bush's decision to release his energy plan 1, 425 miles from the state border.

Traveling as far west as the Mississippi River, Bush spoke sympathetically of California's well-known energy shortage, saying he is "deeply concerned about the impact of blackouts on the daily lives of the good people of the state."

Yet the 163-page report he distributed bluntly acknowledges that its 105 recommendations will do little to prevent rolling blackouts or lower gas prices this summer.

"Unfortunately, there are no short-term solutions to long-term neglect," states a section on "California's Energy Challenge," generously illustrated with pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge and other California landscapes.

"Our energy crisis has been years in the making, and will take years to put fully behind us."

Several provisions may make electricity more plentiful for California years into the future, including one to allow the government to seize private land to build transmission lines and another to speed the permit process for power generators.

That will be cold comfort to millions of Californians whose lights and laptops go dark this spring as they confront staggering increases in utility bills.

TOUGH-LOVE APPROACH

As California faces the prospect of a long energy-deprived summer, the administration has clung to a tough-love approach, insisting that short-term fixes -- like the price limits advocated by Democrats -- will compound the problem down the road.

Warned by California Republicans that such an approach could have politically disastrous consequences, the administration in recent days has softened its language, speaking more sympathetically about California's plight.

Bush aides suggest that some immediate price relief might come from the "psychological" effect of knowing that more energy supplies are on the way.

"The quicker you implement this policy, the quicker we're going to get rid of some of the problems like California (is experiencing)," a senior administration told reporters at a briefing.

Pressed specifically on what recommendations would ease the state's current troubles, the official pointed to a plan to speed the permit process for power plants, something he acknowledged has been going on for months.

"You've got to look at this from the perspective that it's been neglected for a long time," the official said of California's problems. "It's going to take some time."

DEMOCRATS SPEAK OUT California Democrats -- some who feel the outrage of their constituents, and others who sense a political opening -- would have nothing of it.

"Mr. President, you didn't create this problem, but you are the only one who can solve it," Gov. Gray Davis said. "With all due respect, Californians want to know Mr. President, whether you're going to be on their side."

Davis, who has predicted that the state will have enough power to be out of the mess by the end of the year, said the White House's laissez faire attitude carries a human toll.

"The president can say the problem will correct itself, and that's true -- but there will be a lot of blood on the floor along the way," Davis said. "I do not think he wants Californians to suffer, however, by doing nothing."

Many Democrats have hinted that Bush's hands-off policy toward California might be different if it wasn't benefiting oil interests from his home state of Texas.

"This lengthy document will not provide one more kilowatt to California this summer, prevent one less minute of blackouts, or keep one less dollar from being transferred from California into the hands of the Texas-based energy producers," said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Her colleague and fellow Democrat, California Sen. Barbara Boxer, added, "The president's energy plan does nothing to ease California's energy pain."

Even non-Californians joined the assault.

'DROP DEAD'

"George Bush's message to California from day one has been, 'Drop dead,' " Democratic Party Chair Terry McAuliffe said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

To showcase the frustration of Californians, Democrats led by House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., will conduct an energy hearing in the Bay Area at the end of the month.

Bush, who has yet to visit the state as president, plans to travel to Southern California at the end of the month.

A hard line on California, which voted overwhelmingly for Democratic former Vice President Al Gore in November, may not be as big a political risk outside the Golden State.

"For much of America, California is a land of fruits and nuts, and they deserve whatever they get," said Stuart Rothenberg, author of a political newsletter in Washington.

But Rothenberg warned that there is danger "if there is a perception that he doesn't have a policy that helps California, then he might not have a policy that helps Michigan, or any place else, and that could be alarming."

In fact, Bush's popularity has sunk in places like Michigan, according to independent pollster Ed Sarpolous.

"People in Michigan may not be as sympathetic to (California's) plight as Californians, but not coming up with answers isn't helping his stature."

Chronicle staff writer Lynda Gledhill contributed to this report. E-mail Marc Sandalow at: msandalow@sfchronicle.com.



-- Robert Riggs (rxr.999@worldnet.att.net), May 19, 2001


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