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Oil And Unions Mix At White House

Six months ago, America's union leaders battled to keep George W. Bush out of the White House. On Monday, the White House reached out to those same union leaders, seeking labor's support for an energy plan that is being buffeted by critics, CBS News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts reports.

The Bush energy plan, to be released later this week, is expected to emphasize the need for greater reliance on oil, coal and nuclear power while also encouraging conservation measures.

That means plenty of new drilling, laying pipelines and constructing power plants, which could result in large numbers of new union jobs. And for Teamster's president James Hoffa, that's what it's all about.

"It's amazing, the number of jobs if we start doing this," said Hoffa. "We're talking about 1,900 refineries."

But a new CBS News poll out Monday finds the majority of Americans believe it's about what's best for Big Oil. Sixty-two percent of those surveyed say the oil industry has too much influence with the Bush administration.

The president, vice president, commerce secretary and national security advisor all worked for oil companies. The secretary of the interior and other high ranking administration officials also had ties to oil and energy - ties 56 percent of Americans believe will result in favorable treatment of the oil and gas industries.

Environmental groups agree, and point to a closed door meeting at the American Petroleum Institute nine days before Mr. Bush took office.

"All of the industry lobbyists there put together a wish list which was transmitted to the transition office, and then to the interior department, and it shows up line by line in the energy policy," said Phil Clapp of the National Environmental Trust.

The White House makes no apology for extending a helping hand to the energy sector, saying it's the best way to increase supplies of oil and electricity.

Vice President Dick Cheney, pointman for the White House energy plan, dismissed suggestions that the administration's policies are tainted by ties to Big Oil, including his own private meetings with industry executives who donate to the GOP.

"Just because somebody makes a campaign contribution doesn't mean that they should be denied the opportunity to express their views to government officials," he said.

In an interview Monday with the Associated Press, Cheney also rejected Democratic demands for price limits and a federal investigation into allegations of price gouging by gasoline companies.

He reiterated the administration's position that there are no easy or quick solutions to rising energy bills. And he accused the Clinton administration of doing "stupid things'' like tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to cope with shortages.

"That's exactly the kind of misguided - I'm trying to think how to state this gracefully - politically motivated policies we've had in the past," heney said.

The vice president left open the possibility of President Bush backing a reduction of the federal gasoline tax and spoke positively about fuel economy standards for automobiles. But the underlyling theme of his remarks was patience: Cheney argued that there is little the White House can do to keep a lid on energy prices this summer.

"These problems did not arise overnight. They're not something that just suddenly dropped out of the sky."

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