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Bush energy policy flawed

Bush’s do-nothing stance on California’s blackouts hurts IT. Bush energy policy flawed Bush’s do-nothing stance on California’s blackouts hurts IT. by James Mathewson

I have been following the energy crisis since I predicted widespread rolling blackouts for Silicon Valley in this space in May 2000. It gives me no solace to see my predictions come true, especially since our site is located in the Bay Area and I have a lot of friends and colleagues out there. But, as “in touch” as I thought I was with the coming energy crisis before our complacency bubble burst, I had no clue it would get this bad. “If the price of milk had increased like the price of energy in California, we would be paying $198 a gallon for milk,” said California Senator Dianne Feinstein in a Senate hearing last week.

It does not take a genius to figure out how energy prices like that can affect people. Not only is it devastating for those in California who can’t afford to keep the milk in their refrigerators cold (even when they have power for their appliances), but also for our entire economy, which depends on a healthy information-technology industry largely based in Silicon Valley. The already razor-thin margins for wafer manufacturers and Web server farms in the Valley are eaten up in electricity costs, and then some. And long term, hundreds of companies that had planned to expand their operations in California are hunting for better energy climates in which to build.

In the face of this, President Bush has shown the stubbornness of a mule. He refuses to use any governmental leverage to try to hold down prices in California amidst the crisis. His attitude is: “They developed a flawed energy policy with half-fast deregulation and almost no power development; let them fix it themselves.” The other aspects of his policy provide no short-term cures for our energy ills. Most of them benefit his oil cronies more than consumers or businesses. And those designed to increase power output by quickening the approval process on new power plants will only improve power supply in three years, tops. Finally, many aspects of his energy policy have little chance for success, as growing environmental opposition to increased CO2 emissions would likely kill his ideas to relax pollution-control standards.

The most interesting irony to me is the way his energy policy plays off his tax policy. He is so eager to stimulate the economy through retroactive tax cuts that he made that his first order of business as president. Yet he is totally unwilling to provide stimulus for the information-technology industry by holding down energy prices in California. Thus, much of the tax stimulus will be eaten up in higher energy costs this year. Why doesn’t he see the irony? Well, tax cuts are conventional conservative policies. Price controls are conventional liberal policies. No matter how much sense a liberal policy might make, Bush will have a hard time taking a leadership stance on it. In his first six months as president, Bush has shown that his leadership is based more on his conservative Republic ideologies than on a willingness to solve the problems the country faces. This is bad news for his four-year term as president. Unless he is willing to be more flexible in his ideologies, he will not be a successful president.

James Mathewson is editorial director of ComputerUser magazine and

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