California Still Priming the President's Energy Pump

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The unveiling of George W, Bush's energy policy (courtesy of the task force run by Dick Cheney) is now a week away. And once again, events — in the form of another day Wednesday of rolling blackouts in California, affecting 300,000 customers — are practically strewing rose petals in his path.

"We cannot conserve our way to energy independence," Bush told a dinner banquet of the Electronic Industries Alliance in Washington on Tuesday, offering the latest advance peek at the long-term energy policy that will surely be driven by upping supply — emphasizing energy exploration (especially natural gas, which powers most electric plants) and the expansion of infrastructures to deliver power across the nation — rather than reducing demand.

Cheney had made a similar point to CNN on Tuesday, if somewhat more bluntly. "What's happened in California," Cheney said, "is they've taken the route of saying, 'Well, we can conserve our way out of the problem… we don't have to produce any more power.' So they haven't built any electric power plants in the last 10 years in California, and today they've got rolling blackouts…"

Bush says he is "concerned about rolling blackouts in California… I'm concerned what that could mean to entrepreneur growth and to high-tech industry." But his White House shows no new intention of lifting a finger to help, not with federally imposed price caps on wholesale prices, not with anything. And why should it? California is making Bush and Cheney look smart, and Democratic governor Gray Davis' optimistic conservation initiatives look a like a waste of money and breath.

"Right now, it looks like we are seeing a lack of conservation," Jim McIntosh, grid operations manager for the California Independent System Operator, told the Los Angeles Times. Though conservation is very difficult to measure, McIntosh said electrical use Tuesday was following historical patterns, and not showing any dips that could be attributed to conservation.

Some cooler weather on its way to California should help the problem in the next few days, and the routine-maintenance closings by power-plant managers getting ready for the real busy season this summer, which have exacerbated the current shortages, will only be temporary. But when air-conditioning season hits the Golden State in earnest, there'll be no escaping the blackouts unless folks make an unprecedented effort to cut back on the juice. (Blackouts it is.)

The rest of the United States is not nearly so badly off. Californians will have their energy crisis this summer, and New Yorkers could join them, and that's about it.

But for Bush and Cheney, who need to raise the long-term specter of nationwide shortages to keep the environmentalists at bay, it'll do.