Bush Administration the First Steered by Oilmen The Bush White House is the first to be headed by a president and vice president with backgrounds in the oil business. The administration has produced a consistent approach to energy policy: finding new supplies and securing the old.
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Bush Administration the First Steered by Oilmen

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Bush Administration the First Steered by Oilmen

Bush Administration the First Steered by Oilmen

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

All this week we've been reporting on the world of high-priced oil. It's never far from the forefront when we talked about the economy and the government, or the White House, where the current administration is led by a president and vice president who came out of the oil industry. That's never happened before. They produced a consistent approach to energy policy over seven years. This focused on finding new supplies and securing the old.

NPR's Don Gonyea has our report.

DON GONYEA: At the start of the Bush administration, the talk about energy was much what you might expect from a president and vice president known as oilmen. An early and still unattained goal of Mr. Bush's was to open up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We can now reach all of Anwar's oil by drilling on just 2,000 acres. Two thousand acres is the size of the Columbus Airport.

GONYEA: Vice President Cheney held a series of still-controversial closed-door meetings in the administration's first months to devise a new energy policy. Many of those the vice president met with were from major oil companies, and the focus was on increasing supply rather than on finding ways to reduce demand.

Cheney confirmed as much in a speech he delivered in Toronto in May of 2001.

Vice President DICK CHENEY: Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis all by itself for sound, comprehensive energy policy.

GONYEA: Despite the emphasis on new sources, the bottom line after seven years is that oil and gasoline prices have risen steadily over the course of this administration. Before the 9/11 terror attacks, a barrel of oil was priced at roughly $25. Now it's over $90.

The steep increase has been driven by increased demand from China and India and by instability in the Middle East and by the war in Iraq that took two million barrels out of the world's daily supply.

The tighter markets and higher prices pushed President Bush to change his tune, if not his basic policy in 2006, when he included this surprising line in his State of the Union address.

President BUSH: We have a serious problem. America is addicted to oil.

GONYEA: For a former Texas oilman to utter such a phrase seemed unthinkable. But there it was. George Edwards is a political scientist at Texas A&M.

Professor GEORGE EDWARDS (Texas A&M University): I think that the explanation for why two old oilmen would now be concerned about alternative sources of energy is security.

GONYEA: But critics say actual efforts to reduce consumption and foreign dependence are still lacking, that there's a focus on potential technological breakthroughs like fuel cells, but no call for things like higher fuel economy standards.

The administration, like others before it, also rejects any talk of higher gas taxes that might get people to use less fuel. David Kirsch spent 16 years working on energy issues at the State Department up until last year. He now works for PFC Energy, a global consulting firm.

Mr. DAVID KIRSCH (Energy Analyst, PFC Energy): What this administration has really been looking for is a technological fix, something that will solve our addiction to oil without actually forcing Americans to change their behavior.

GONYEA: And this former State Department analyst says the administration has done things that have made the problem of oil prices worse. He says the Iraq War definitely drove up prices by creating worries and instability. When asked about the ways the Bush administration might still influence global oil markets and its remaining time in office, Kirsch offers this.

Mr. KIRSCH: Is there a lot more they can do? Yeah, certainly. The administration could still bomb Iran, and that is the key worry, I think, out there in the markets.

GONYEA: Asked about tensions with Iran, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino recently declined to comment on their effect on oil markets.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: You can explore our entire series on the high price of oil at npr.org.

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