Unifying instead of dividing

Before he took office, President George W. Bush declared he would be a "unifier and not a divider." But moderates such as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, the former governor of New Jersey, and Treasury Sec. Paul O'Neill, a protégé of former President Gerald Ford who once advocated a btu tax, spelled trouble, the opinion-makers said.

Before he took office, President George W. Bush declared he would be a "unifier and not a divider." But moderates such as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, the former governor of New Jersey, and Treasury Sec. Paul O'Neill, a protégé of former President Gerald Ford who once advocated a btu tax, spelled trouble, the opinion-makers said. Surely their presence would complicate crafting a national energy policy. Yet so far, this conventional wisdom has been wrong, much to the consternation of environmental groups.

100 days

With Bush nearing his 100th day in office, the administration continues to speak with one voice on energy policy. Clearly there have been bumps in the road-Bush's statement confirming the death of the Kyoto treaty proved awkward for EPA's Whitman. She had privately cautioned against pulling the plug on Kyoto, but her remarks to the president were later leaked to the media. Still, the news cycle on the issue was remarkably brief. The reason? Whitman vigorously defended the president's decision and made clear she will be an integral part of a new global climate strategy the White House is preparing to unveil before Earth Day, Apr 22.

Whitman hasn't been the only victim of leaks. The departments of Interior and Agriculture told the White House's Energy Taskforce, in a draft leaked to USA Today on Apr. 6, that oil and gas drilling could be safely expanded to some areas now shut off from exploration.

Those findings weren't a surprise to anyone who has been listening to George W. Bush over the past 2 years. What was surprising to some in industry was the vehement response leveled by some environmental groups.

"It's beginning to look like the Bush administration is beyond embarrassment," said William Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society. "...If Mr. Bush is searching for an Earth Day message, I suggest he tell the American people that he's revoking everything he's done on environmental issues since taking office."

Competing interests

Some Bush policymakers speculate that environmental groups are particularly worried because the report illustrates how efficiently the White House has corralled the competing interests of the federal bureaucracy to meet policy goals.

The draft, for example seeks to establish an Interagency Planning Troubleshooting Team that would accelerate permitting. This self-described "SWAT" team would be led by Interior's US Geological Survey but would pull experts from various government agencies, including USGS sister agency Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the US Forest Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

A final report from Vice President Dick Cheney's task force is not due until summer, but the Mar. 12 draft reflects what direction the group is heading.

Even the Republican leadership in Congress, which is about as easy to control as a greased pig or a 3-year-old in a shopping mall, is dutifully waiting for the White House before moving forward on its own energy legislation. That gives oil lobbyists hope that some kind of energy package may be passed this fall. However, Republicans control the slimmest of margins so the pressure will still be on Bush to forge a compromise with Democrats.

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