Michael Weisskopf: Some critics have suggested that you've labeled the current situation as an energy crisis in part to reward your many campaign supporters in the energy sector.
Vice President Dick Cheney: Well obviously that's not the case. During the course of the campaign we did mention that we thought it was a problem that there was no national energy policy for several years, that if you look down the road [at] the storm cloud on the horizon out there that could potentially adversely affect our long term economic outlook, it was potential problems in the energy area. And now here we are in April of 2001 and we're talking about rolling blackouts in California and power shortages all up and down the West Coast up into the Northwest and rapidly rising prices for various forms of energy, and a situation in which we clearly have not kept pace in terms of production with the growing demand for energy in various forms, especially in the electric area. But I think it's pretty clear that if you're caught in the middle of a traffic jam caused by a power outage in Los Angeles that this is a serious problem.
MW: And what about the politics of it?
DC: The fact of the matter is that these are tough issues. If they were easy issues the Clinton Administration would have done something about them. They didn't. They basically steered clear of all of this. But the president and I believe that it's our responsibility to raise these important questions, to have this debate and dialogue, if you will, and engage the country on the question of what kind of energy policies we want long term. And to take on, for example, to address such questions as the issue of whether or not we ought to go back and look at nuclear power again. Those are not politically easy things to do, but they are the responsible course of action given the importance of this issue.
MW: And your central principles as you enter this issue are what?
DC: Well, I think if you look at what we are trying to do, we're trying to focus on the long term, take a broad comprehensive approach that looks at all aspects of the problem and the opportunity here, that focuses not only on the need to meet our growing demand for energy but also to do it in an environmentally sound fashion. [It's a] very important consideration going forward that we take a look at conservation and alternative sources in renewable at the same time that we focus on the more traditional sources of power, that we focus on technology. We really think technology, new technology offers us some tremendous opportunities here to both meet our needs and at the same time protect the environment.
Adam Zagorin: There's been a fair amount of talk about the secrecy, if you will, surrounding the process involving your task force. I wonder if you could address that in terms of what is the difference between the way your task force is operating and the way the one that was chaired by Hillary Clinton in the health care area was conducted.
DC: Well, I don't think there's any comparison at all. This basically is a meeting, series of meetings of a committee made up of the cabinet and the senior administration officials. As we go, we're allowed to get together and make policy. That's what we get paid to do. But there are no outside groups in the meetings that we have when we meet as the energy task force. There have been meetings with outsiders by various individual members of the task force and by staff, and they've met with a broad range of folks from the environmental community, from the energy industries, and so forth. But those are not policy-making meetings.
So everything we're doing is totally consistent with the way government is supposed to operate. We have meetings with cabinet committees all the time and senior officials on all kinds of policies that are not open in the sense that we don't have outsiders present and the press isn't there. But this is all preparatory to decisions that the president can make. And then once a decision's been made and an administration policy developed, then it's announced and becomes public. Nothing any different about how we're proceeding here with respect to the energy task force than the way we look at economic policy or prepare the budget or look at national security questions. This is traditionally the way administrations operate. We aren't doing anything any different.
AZ: Some people sort of wonder what's going on in there. What is going on in there?
DC: Well, we've moved in a staff that is headed by a man named Andrew Lundquist, who works for me, who's the director of the operation. I've got a small staff assigned to it, and the various cabinet members and agency heads that are involved all contribute staff as well too. They're working putting together a report. We've given the president a preliminary sort of interim report. We'll come to him eventually with a polished report that will be made public, that will lay out the case in terms of why we think there's a problem, and make a series of recommendations. He'll have to sit down and decide which ones he wants to accept and adopt as administration policy.
So what we're doing is preparing this report basically for him, with the idea that eventually it'll come to fruition as a comprehensive national energy policy and we're covering several different things. We're focusing obviously on increasing supply, and we're looking at all the various aspects of where we get energy from and the various sources that we use to generate electricity, and how we handled our transportation fuels, etc. We're talking about the whole question of the need to modernize our infrastructure. Part of the problem is not only the question of generating electric power, for example, but it's also our transmission lines. The fact [is]that we badly need to modernize that infrastructure. Some of the problems in California, for example have to do with the difficulty they have moving power from Northern California to Southern California because of an inadequate power grid.
We get into the whole area of transportation fuels and gasoline, rising prices there. One of our big problems is we haven't built any new refineries in this country for 25 years, and refineries are running flat out at maximum capacity and having to put a lot of complex additives into the product in order to meet various clean air requirements. That combination of things, our desire to have a good clean environment but also to meet those needs for fuel, comes back again to the infrastructure that's available and the capacity of those refineries. We're talking about energy conservation and about how we can use new technology to get more bang for the buck in terms of the energy we do use and reduce the amount of energy consumption per unit of output. We're talking about independence and energy independence and avoiding the kinds of threats to our security that will develop if we don't address these kinds of questions long term. So it's a good broad-based study being done by cabinet officials with help from their staffs and involves the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Commerce and Treasury. Josh Bolton had a policy in the White House, Joel Albaugh is involved, the head of FEMA, a broad range of Administration officials [have] come together to work on this particular problem.