A Gusher Of Partisan Rhetoric

A man walks as waves break on Chiswell Beach, Portland, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2007, in Dorset, England. Ferries were canceled or delayed in Britain, Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Finland.
GETTY IMAGES/Matt Cardy
With oil prices high and the election fast approaching, George W. Bush on Friday blasted Vice President Al Gore as an environmental extremist without a clue and most critically, part of an administration without a plan, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker.

"They have had seven-and-a-half years to develop a sound energy policy. They have had every chance to avoid the situation that confronts us today," Bush said.

Seeking to capitalize on consumers' oil anxiety, the Texas governor and former Texas oil man went to Michigan to lay out his supply-side energy plan.

Bush is pushing a $7.1 billion plan over 10 years to increase the nation's fuel sources, protect the environment and reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil. The most controversial part of his plan is a proposal to open up a portion of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. The spectacular, 19-million acre preserve was put off limits to oil drilling by Congress two decades ago.

"The vice president says he would rather protect this refuge than gain the energy, but this is a false choice," Bush said. "We can do both - taking out energy and leaving only footprints."

Bush's Energy Plan

  • Open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling on about 1.5 million acres, which likely contains about 10 billion barrels of oil. Gore opposes such action;
  • Streamline regulatory restrictions on refining capacity and pipeline construction;
  • Give tax credits worth $1.4 billion over 10 years for electricity produced from alternative fuels;
  • Expand by $1 billion over 10 years the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program in part with oil and gas royalties;
  • Spend $2 billion over 10 years to research "clean coal" technologies to reduce emissions;
  • Establish a privately managed Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve, spending $100 million over 10 years;
  • Promote a North American Energy Policy with Mexico and Canada and promote energy resources in non-OPEC regions, such as the Caspian Sea and parts of Africa;
  • Establish a meeting of G-8 energy ministers to promote independence from OPEC.

  • For his part, Gore renewed his accusation that Bush is beholden to the oil industry, notably through his support for oil drilling in the Alaska refuge. Appearing Friday at the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase, Md., the vice president said he'd protect the environmentally sensitive area.

    "I will fight for consumers, who deserve a reliable, affordable supply of energy, and I will fight for all Americans, who deserve to have our environment protected against those who would set the oil companies loose in the most beautiful, fragile parts of our nation," he said.

    Gore deended his call to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help homeowners beset by soaring heating costs but said the nation must cut its dependence on oil.

    "We don't have to build our lives around a fuel source that is distant, uncertain and too easily manipulated," he said.

    Gore running mate Joseph Lieberman on Friday attacked Bush's environmental record and ties to the oil industry, standing in a park within sight of Houston's oil and chemical refineries.

    "I'm here in Houston because Al and I are so troubled by Gov. Bush's environmental and energy record in this great state of Texas," Lieberman said. "I suppose it's not surprising he would leave Texas to talk about energy and the environment."

    Oil prices are a powerful pocketbook issue in this dead-even race as cold weather and Election Day loom - especially in the Midwestern battleground states where the leaves are changing as the temperature dips toward freezing.

    Gore heightened the issue Sept. 21 by urging President Clinton to release several million barrels from the nation's petroleum reserve. The president did just that 48 hours later, authorizing the release of some 30 million barrels, drawing accusations from Bush that Democrats worked together "for short-term political gain."

    Meanwhile, a federal grand jury Thursday indicted of one of Bush's major contributors for clean air violations.

    The indictment charges Koch Industries Inc., its subsidiary Koch Petroleum Group and four employees with 97 felonies for problems dating to 1995 with the cancer-linked pollutant benzene at a Corpus Christi plant.

    The company and executive David Koch have donated at least $215,000 to the Republican Party this election. Its employees have chipped in $27,500 to Bush's presidential bid and the company has given $225,000 in political action committee donations to GOP congressional candidates.

    However, Bush's administration joined in the investigation and hailed the indictment.

    Benzene is a byproduct of the oil refining process that has been linked to cancer and has been considered a hazardous air pollutant by the federal government since 1977.

    Koch spokesman Jay Rosser disputed the allegations as "not consistent with the facts."