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CNN Live Event/Special
Vice President Cheney Speaks With CNN
Aired May 08, 2001 - 10:32 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up in less than 15 minutes, CNN's senior White House correspondent John King will have a live one- on-one interview with Vice President Dick Cheney.
Joining us to preview some of the hot-button political issues facing the country and the Bush administration are our Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno and senior political correspondent for "TIME" magazine Michael Weisskopf.
Gentlemen, good morning to both of you.
FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Good morning to you.
MICHAEL WEISSKOPF, "TIME": Good morning.
KAGAN: Frank, let's go ahead and start with you.
Obviously, I haven't talked to John, but I would imagine the top questions will be about energy. Back in January, the vice president pulled together this energy force task force, and the suggestions that he came up with and that we're starting to hear about sound, basically, like a wish list for the energy lobby.
SESNO: Here's what we have to keep in mind as we hear this, Daryn: What the administration is trying to do -- and Dick Cheney has been heading the task force -- is fundamentally change the national discussion about the direction of energy policy away from being focused around conservation and environmentalism, and much more towards recognizing that the population of the country has grown, its energy needs have grown, and the type of energy needs have grown.
So what the administration is pursuing, principally, in starting to roll out this energy policy are ways to expand exploration and recovery of fossil and other sorts of fuels. That includes coal, that includes oil, that includes natural gas, and that includes nuclear.
It also revolves around the fact, according to the administration, that the nation's infrastructure hasn't grown enough to keep up with the demand the so that you've got to build more...
KAGAN: You're talking pipelines.
SESNO: Literally and figuratively -- right, pipelines. KAGAN: Michael, some of those ideas Americans really haven't heard pushed in a positive light in years, things like nuclear energy -- building new nuclear power plants -- and coal. In the Clinton administration, these probably were considered dirty words.
WEISSKOPF: Indeed, the Clinton administration shifted away from the dirtier fuels and focused more on natural gas at a time when it was readily available and reasonably priced. Both those indices have changed in recent months and years.
And now, really, we have no other choice, according to the Cheney group, but to go back to good old-fashioned coal, of which we have a 250-year supply. The United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal -- and in the view of the Cheney folks, that's the way we've got to go, because we have little choice.
Of course, you'll hear other arguments from environmentalists and conservationists, who believe the very people who are making this policy come from industries that will benefit from it -- that is, the energy sector: oil, natural gas, and, of course, coal.
KAGAN: When you talk about those benefits, Frank, I just want to point out, from a political standpoint, when you look at who stands to benefit, it almost looks like an electoral map of who supported President Bush and who did not: You have West Virginia, a big coal state, and that Midwest to Southeast section. How he's treated California, which did not support him, was to say, basically, you are on your own.
SESNO: Electoral votes do speak; they certainly do. So do your top advisers, and we should say that whether it's the vice president himself, who hails from Halliburton, which is an energy-related company; Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser; the commerce secretary; or the president himself, who has some experience in the oil patch.
There is a variety of ways to look at this. One is, as some might say, these are energy folks -- no wonder they're tilting in that direction. The other way to look at is that they've got experience in this area, and they know something about what they're discussing.
One quick example, Daryn, points out one of the points that they make, and that is that Prudhoe Bay, in Alaska, produces 8 billion cubic feet of a day of natural gas. There are no pipelines up there, so that natural gas that's a byproduct of the oil extraction is pumped right back into the ground. What, you may say, would happen if you could actually move that natural gas?
KAGAN: It's one thing to talk about all these ideas. It's another to sell it to the American people, and to the Congress, as well, because, of course, a task force does not make law.
So Michael, what do the president and the vice president have to do in the days and weeks ahead to get these ideas across?
WEISSKOPF: First of all, Daryn, the need is to lower consumer expectations to make them realize that this is a long-range problem with no quick fixes. Next is to make sure that members of Congress fully understand the stakes here, and are willing to embrace the Cheney point of view. Finally, there will be an effort to beat back complaints by environmentalists and conservationists, that by pushing supply, we're ignoring huge energy savings through more efficient machinery and traditional conservation methods.
SESNO: And Daryn, Michael touches on a very interesting point, that last one on conservation methods. There's a pressure point within the administration: The transportation secretary, Norman Mineta -- the sole Democrat within the Cabinet -- has been pushing for higher fuel-efficient standards among the Big Three U.S. auto and other auto manufacturers. They're called the CAFE standards. Yet he's gotten no grief whatsoever within this administration.
What he wants is he would like to see the administration tackle a fairly longstanding Congressional ban on the federal government using any of its money to look into the fuel efficiency of the automakers. The Big Three automakers are opposed, and so far, so is the rest of the administration.
KAGAN: Hold that thought, because we have to take a break.
KAGAN: Once again, we're standing by: About five minutes from now, our CNN senior White House correspondent John King will be sitting down with Vice President Dick Cheney for a live, one-on-one interview. We expect that to last about a half hour and for the gentlemen to be able to talk about a number of topics.
We've already tackled energy, leading up to this interview, with three other gentlemen, here to look ahead with us.
We have our Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno; Michael Weisskopf, political correspondent for "TIME" magazine; and we found our Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst here at CNN -- it's quite an audience here with me.
Gentlemen, thanks for being with us.
KAGAN: Bill, let's bring you in here. I think one of the reasons for having this interview today is not just George W. Bush's first 100 days in office, but Dick Cheney's first 100 days in office as the vice president. What have we learned about him as a vice president, besides the immense power that he seems to hold in this administration?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's no small thing. He has more power than the most vice presidents in the past have had. And in fact, on the tax bill, he was really the point man with Congress for the White House -- much more so than the president. A lot of Republicans in Congress thought the president should have been more directly engaged, but Cheney was the guy who went out, spoke to the members of Congress, twisted arms, lobbied, and really pulled Republicans and as many Democrats as he could get around on that issue.
He is a crucial man, in part because he knows Washington very well -- my goodness, he was chief of staff in the Ford White House 25 years ago. So he knows this town.
KAGAN: He knows the place, having been a congressman as well, from Wyoming.
Michael, what have you observed, in this first 100 days, in terms of the relationship that these two men have developed?
WEISSKOPF: They're extraordinarily close. The president relies on him for just about everything. It's almost a dual presidency in that sense.
On an energy task force alone, he's pushed complex issues through in record time. This is a kind of project that often takes administrations many, many months, if not years, to come up with. Certainly, solutions are not that complex, yet reaching them is often a problem, especially with the kind of consensus that this group has had. You could make the argument they are a like-minded bunch of guys around that table; nevertheless, considering all the political potholes, he pushed it through pretty quickly.
KAGAN: Frank, we want to hear from you as well, but I'm hearing we need to get in one more break before the interview. So stand by, gentlemen.
KAGAN: On high gasoline prices and the energy crunch, what is the Bush administration's plan of attack?
Our CNN senior White House correspondent John King is inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with Vice President Dick Cheney. It's a great opportunity: a half hour to speak live on the energy crunch, as well as a number of other topics.
John, we'll let you take it from here.
JOHN KING, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: ... Executive Office Building. It's just across the street from the White House. The vice president has an office over there as well.
We thank you for joining us this morning, sir.
Your task force is finished its work. The president will unveil the report next week and the administration tries to sell a new long- term energy strategy for this country. Let's focus first on the short term. Consumers pulling their car up to the pump today are paying as much as $2.00 or more, $2.64 I just saw one consumer saying she paid in California over the weekend. Anything the administration can do in the short term to help those people, the American people as they prepare for spring and summer vacation, as they drive to work every day?
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, you have to ask your self how it is we got to this state, John. Why do we have rapidly rising gasoline prices today? And a lot of that has to do with the fact that we have not had coherent national energy policy for many years. We don't have the refineries, for example. We have not built a new refinery in this country for over 20 years. So the market is very, very tight for gasoline. And we've added a lot of requirements because we want clean air. The combination of those things is what in fact is leading the price spikes this summer for gasoline.
The solution for us is to try to deal with these issues on a long-term basis so that we get more supply. That's the key to having the adequate prices as well.
KING: One way to get more supply obviously is more domestic exploration and production. We'll discuss that in a minute.
During the presidential campaign, yourself and then-Governor Bush were quite critical of the prior administration. I want to read you a quote from then-Governor Bush, January, 2000. "What I think the president ought to do," President Clinton in that case, "what I think the president ought to do, is he ought to get on the phone with the OPEC cartel and say we expect you to open your spigots." OPEC has actually cut production during this administration, citing the downturn in the world economy.
KING: Are you learning, 100-plus days, that it's easier during a campaign to say some things than to actually do them when you're in the government?
CHENEY: Well, no, we've worked with OPEC. I met with the Saudi oil minister just last week, as a matter of fact, he came through town, Mr. Ali Nuaimi. The fact is today we can't blame the problem on OPEC in terms of current gasoline prices. Their production levels and the price of oil through the spring has been fairly stable.
In fact, the biggest problem comes back to this refinery capacity. Yet, by our own choice, we have not built new refineries in this country for over 25 years. And the net result of that is no matter what happens to the international oil price, it's the lack of refining capacity that drives those gasoline prices higher, not what happens in terms of the price fluctuations for crude.
KING: Well, let's talk about that infrastructure. It's a difficult word. You say we need to add 1,300 to 1,900 refineries in this country, power plants -- I'm sorry -- on the electricity side and then a number of refineries, well over a 20-year strategy. How do you get local governments to do that? And there's a term that's used often, NIMBY, an acronym in Washington, not in my backyard.
How you going to convince state and local governments to do this? And will this report call for, essentially, the power of eminent domain? When the state wants to build a highway, it says, "We're taking your house." When the state wants to build a new factory, it says, "We're taking your house." Is the federal government prepared to say, "We will take your house, because we need to build new power transmission lines and new gas pipelines."
CHENEY: Well, the federal government already has the authority, eminent domain authority, with respect to gas pipelines; FERC has that authority. The issue is whether or not we should have the same authority on electrical transmission lines, that's never been granted previously. That's one of the issues we've looked at. We'll have a recommendation when we release the report next week.
KING: You have seem to hint that you think you need that authority to get this done. And you have met with a number of people who have said, "How can we do this back home? We need your help. You need to cover us if we are to do this."
CHENEY: John, what I'm trying to do here is be forthcoming as I can, but save some of the specific recommendations for when we actually release the report.
But let's talk about a couple of those subjects you've touched on there. You know, we're going to get a lot from conservation. We've got a great track record, for example, on conservation and increased efficiency over the years.
If you go back to 1973, our economy has increased five times over, 126 percent. Our energy use increased 26 percent. We've gotten to be much, much more efficient consumers of energy than ever before. Our technology's gotten better, and will get even better in the future. We'll get a lot of savings going forward from conservation and increased efficiency.
Bottom line, though, is, we can't close the gap all the way to expect (ph) the demand, unless we provide additional supplies. And that means additional supplies of electric power, because we think we will need a minimum of 1,300 new power plants over the next 20 years. We'll need more natural gas. While those plants will be gas-fired, we're going to need more coal. We're going to need, possibly, to go back to nuclear again, that's 20 percent of our electric capacity today. And we're going to find ways to get more gasoline for our transportation industry. So we need that combinations of things.
And what our report does, it focuses on conservation and efficiency and additional supplies that are required, at the same time trying to protect the environment.
KING: You've been in this town quite a bit. You understand this is not just a policy debate, but a political debate as well.
CHENEY: Political debate, that's right.
KING: And you received some criticism after your speech to the Associated Press meeting in Toronto where you said, quote, "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy." The governor of California said just last night on CNN he thinks you're missing the boat; that you don't understand the value and the potential of conservation.
As you answer the question, or respond to the governor, if you will, what specifically will this plan do, and does this administration want to do, in terms of conservation? And what kind of new money are we talking about?
CHENEY: Well, you'll find that most of the financial incentives that we recommend in the report go for conservation or renewables, for increased efficiencies. Now, we don't have a lot of new financial incentives in here to go out and produce more oil and gas, for example, so, we believe in conservation, we believe in renewables, we believe in wind and solar and all of those other technologies.
But the bottom line is, the so-called renewables only provide about 2 percent of our electric generating capacity today. If we triple that over the next 20 years, it will only be 6 percent. Conservation's important; we've got a major emphasis on conservation in our report.
But what's happened in California, I would argue is, they've taken the route of saying, "Well, we can conserve our way out of the problem. All we have to do is conserve; we don't have to produce any more power." So they haven't built any electric power plants in the last 10 years in California, and today they've got rolling blackouts, because they don't have enough electricity; they've got rising prices; they've got a whole complex of problems that are caused by relying only on conservation and not doing anything about the supply side of the equation.
KING: One way to conserve is to make cars more efficient. When now-Secretary of Energy Abraham was in the Senate from the state of Michigan, he was known as a friend of the auto industry -- makes sense, they're obviously a major force economically in his state. The White House Chief of Staff Andy Card was once a lobbyist as well in this field, and one of the big questions is, will this report, or if not this report, will this administration, come July when the National Academy of Sciences makes new recommendations on what's called CAFE standards, fuel economy standards, is this administration prepared to say to Detroit, "You must improve the efficiency of your vehicles?"
And it's that, again, a policy and a political question. Many of the people who go to the polls and vote like their big SUVs.
CHENEY: Sure, well, the important thing to recognize here is all of these are tough political issues -- whether or not to drill in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and whether or not we ought to go nuclear on some of our power plants. These are difficult issues -- whether or not we ought to have a comprehensive energy policy.
If it was easy, the Clinton administration would have done it. They ducked it for eight years.
With respect to the CAFE standards, we think they have made a significant contribution over the years, improved the efficiency, if you will, the mileage of our automobiles.
Right now, there is legislative language that prohibits the Department of Transportation from going in and addressing the question of changing the standards for light trucks, SUVs among others.
There is a study underway by the National Academy of Sciences, will be completed this summer. What we'll recommend is taking a look at the results of that study and deciding whether or not we want to go forward with some change in the CAFE standards as well.
KING: So wait for the study, make no decision right now?
CHENEY: That's right. There will be -- As I say, it's a thorough study. It's done by one of the best institutions around, and we think it will give us useful information and lay the groundwork for whatever policy recommendation we want to make after that.
KING: Let me follow on that point something that Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, said yesterday that was quite interesting. He said, "One of the goals here is to make this country more efficient, to find new sources of energy, but in no way to put a cramp on the American way of life," that Americans are entitled to their SUVs. Americans are entitled to high computer use, going online. Balance that for you -- there's no sacrifice to be made here?
The country has what you would term an energy crisis or near crisis. There's no sacrifice to be made by the American people?
CHENEY: There are, clearly, places short term. For example, efforts are underway in California to try to reduce power consumption this summer. The president has ordered to the federal agencies out there to cut back at least 10 percent to try to provide some relief for the folks in California.
But long term, what we're talking about is meeting the needs of a growing economy for adequate supplies of energy; providing the kind of continued hope and optimism that the American people have that they'll be able to better themselves and their families and improve the circumstances of their children in the years ahead; that they can start a new business and succeed or take a new job and succeed or build a house they want.
The American lifestyle, basically, we think is very important. With technology, there's no reason why we can't do that or we can't build houses that are more energy efficient than ever before. We're learning how to do that all the time. The automobiles, for example, we drive today with all those silicon chips in them that, in effect, retune the engine between every firing of a spark plug.
There are lots of ways we can use technology to get better, more efficient, conserve more, get more mileage, if you will, out of our energy resources, without saying to the American people, you've got to live in the dark, turn out all the lights, don't enjoy the things that our modern society brings you. That shouldn't be necessary.
KING: OK. On that note, we're going to take a quick break. We'll be back in just a couple of minutes with more Vice President Dick Cheney on the emerging Bush administration energy policy and other issues as well.
KING: Welcome back. For those of you just joining us, we are in the ceremonial office of the vice president, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, just across the path from the White House, with the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney.
During the break, we were having a little conversation. And you were saying one of the most difficult things that you try to sell a very controversial new energy policy, a number of very controversial items, is that this is an emotional debate, that the parties involved don't trust each other. Explain what you mean by that?
CHENEY: Well, there is a lot of history to some of these issues, of course. But it's almost as though nobody hears the other person on opposite sides of the argument. People hear what they want to hear. People deal with each other on the basis of stereotypes. Oh, you have got a background in the energy industry, that's all you care about. Or you're an environmentalist. Oh, you're a tree hugger. All you care about is preserving the environment and you don't want to meet people's legitimate needs for energy.
Somehow we've got to sort through all of that and get people to sit down and listen, because one of the things that I'm struck by continually as I dig through this is that technology often provides the answer for us; that we can in fact both have adequate supplies of energy and protect the environment; that we've got a great track record over the last several decades as a society in terms of doing a better job, using less energy, preserving the environment.
And in fact, even as our consumption of energy has arisen by some 47 percent over the last few years, the amount of pollution going into the atmosphere is down by 31 percent. So we are doing both. We are protecting the environment and producing more at the same time.
KING: You mentioned the emotions and the politics of this. Forgive me, but to play devil's advocate, in this town, if you wanted to be a political opponent of what you're about to do this is t-ball, excuse the metaphor. You do come from the energy industry yourself.
KING: The president before he was governor, owner of a baseball team was in the energy industry. A number of people throughout the administration have been involved either in the energy industry directly or relations with the automobile industry. From a political standpoint, pretty easy target, is it not? And how do you address that?
CHENEY: Well, address it first of all, we've got a lot of experienced people in the business. I think it's useful to have somebody who knows something about the energy business involved in the effort. But those aren't the only backgrounds that are represented. Christie Todd Whitman, who has had a major role, as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency -- governor, good strong environmental record as a governor. So when we sit down around the table to argue and debate over policy, all views are represented.
And the other thing is that just because somebody comes out of the energy industry doesn't necessarily make them quote, "anti- environment." I think what you'll find, what I found during my experience in the business is that the industry is rather split on nearly every issue. One of the leading environmental firms in the world today is British Petroleum, headed by John Browne, who spends a lot of time in energy on these kinds of concerns. We have a great many good folks in the energy industry who care a lot about the environment.
So again, the old stereotypes kind of need to be set aside and we need to calm down a little bit, get everybody down off the ceiling, and sit down and have an informed and intelligent debate over where we ought to go with energy policy.
KING: OK, we've had a lot of talk about the politics. Let's get in, move quickly through, some of the policy items. Coal, you say it's a great resource, the United States obviously has a great supply of coal; the environmentalists say it's a dirty source of energy, if you will, contributes to global warming.
One of the issues before your commission is will you go back to the prior interpretation of what the Environmental Protection Agency calls New Source Review, a term unknown to most Americans, but essentially a new standard put in place that if a coal plant modernized, it would become subject to new environmental standards.
Many in the industry believe in the latter years of the Clinton administration, they went too far, and that if you would go back simply to the old interpretation, you could fire up some new coal plants as much as 40,000 megawatts. That would be the equivalent of 40 new power plants.
Will you go back to the old interpretation? And then, if you could follow on with that, what specifically are you prepared to do to encourage more use of coal?
CHENEY: Well, on coal, it is very important. It provides 52 percent of our electricity today. You know, we've gotten a lot better at burning it cleanly and taking out the pollutants. We've got $2 billion in the budget for clean coal technology.
The question of New Source Review really flows out of the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act. And there, if you have a significant modification or upgrade on an existing plant, then you have to go through New Source Review, and you're required to put on the latest scrubber technology. If, on the other hand, it is sort of routine maintenance and upkeep and not a significant upgrade, then you don't have to go through that process.
The debate has arisen because in the last couple of years at EPA, they have toughened their enforcement standard. They haven't really changed the regulations, but there are a lot more cases pending where it's alleged people need to make the more comprehensive investment. A tough call, we're asking Christie Todd Whitman, the administrator of the EPA, to go review all of that, to draw on some of the other resources within the administration and to take a look at this charge that has been made that somehow it's being enforced now in a way that fundamentally inhibits the capacity of plants to make necessary upgrades and do routine maintenance. We don't have enough facts yet to be able to say it should or shouldn't be changed, but we are asking her to go back and review it.
KING: The critics say this is an administration that wants to burn more coal.
They say it's a follow-up to the administration saying it would not support the Kyoto Treaty on global warming. They, of course, believe coal burning contributes to greenhouse gases and global warming. And they would say this, that the president, then governor in the campaign, promised to limit CO2 emissions from power plants. Then he goes to the state of West Virginia, absent those four electoral votes -- I'm talking to Joe Lieberman today. The president goes to the state of West Virginia and he says he wants to convince many in the country who don't believe we can have a clean air policy and burn coal at the same time. Then shortly thereafter, he says he will not go ahead with that campaign pledge.
Again, politically, that's a pretty easy way to say this is about politics. This is not about policy.
CHENEY: Well, I think the mistake was the campaign pledge. Nobody paid much attention to it at the time. You guys didn't notice it, the press and, frankly, many of us in the campaign didn't either. It was a mistake, because we aren't in a position today to be able to do that in terms of sort of capping emissions, CO2 emissions. We can do a lot of work to clean up coal technologies, so we deal with other kinds of pollutants and he's committed to that; in the same speech made reference to controlling mercury and SO2 and nox (ph), for example, emissions and we will go forward with the legislation in those areas.
One of the great ways to deal with greenhouse gases is nuclear power plants. And if we go forward in developing these 1,300 new plants we think we'll need over the next 20 years, some of those probably ought to be nuclear. We get 20 percent of our electricity today for nuclear power. There's no reason why we can't increase that. It is a safe technology and it doesn't emit any carbon dioxide at all. So assuming that we can go forward on that, that helps us with an environmental problem the same time that we meet our energy needs.
KING: Nineteen seventy-three since anyone in the industry has proposed a new nuclear power plant. My understanding is the report will promise to beef up the permitting staff so you can get through the applications faster. Anything else the administration is prepared to do to encourage the nuclear industry? And do you seriously believe that in the current political environment that the industry will step forward and say, let's build more nuclear plants in this country? CHENEY: Well, I think the environment's changed for a couple of reasons. First of all, I find, as I get out and talking to people and also with members of Congress who are pretty sensitive politically, that there's much greater willingness today than there was a few years ago to look at the question of nuclear power as potential source for us for electricity.
The problems, up to now, have been driven in part by economics. All of the controversy that surrounded nuclear power in the past discouraged many utilities from making that investment. Now, with the gas prices rising as dramatically as they have, nuclear power looks like a pretty good alternative from an economic standpoint, if the permitting process is manageable and if we find a way to deal with the waste question.
KING: I was just going to raise that. The last administration had a very tough time; the state of Nevada and others trying to deal with the waste issue. Can you go forward without upfront saying, "Here's how we will deal with the waste issue?"
CHENEY: Well, it is a tough problem, and it's one of the things that we'll be working on as we go forward from this point. But just making the decision that we think nuclear power deserves another look, that it may offer us significant potential for the future, that does, in fact, then entail us going back and addressing the waste question.
And there have been steps taken. There have been sites studied. There's a lot of work that's been done here. There's more that needs to be done if we're actually going to resolve it.
Right now we've got waste piling up at reactors all over the country. Eventually, there ought to be a permanent repository. The French do this very successfully and very safely in an environmentally sound, sane (ph) manner. We need to be able to do the same thing.
KING: Another lightning rod in your report will be exploring for oil and natural gas on federal lands -- the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Lewis and Clark Forest and others. And your critics will say, "It's really not that much there if you look at the context of what we need for energy and you're going to put these pristine environments and endangered species at risk."
I know one of your experiences with the Halliburton Company is you believe there's the technology available to do this in an environmentally-friendly way. How so?
CHENEY: Well, if you look at our oil requirements, transportation sector is 100 percent dependent -- nearly 100 percent dependent today on oil. That's not likely to change in the next 20 years. There are interesting possibilities coming along -- hybrids, for example, that I think we're going to encourage and support in our recommendations; eventually, maybe fuel cells. But for the foreseeable future, it's going to be a gasoline- and diesel-powered transportation system. That means oil.
Over the last several years, since the 1970s, when we imported 36 percent of our oil, the amount of oil we get from overseas has steadily crept up until, we estimate in 20 years hence it'll be two- thirds of all our oil will be imported from overseas.
Now we do need to develop resources here at home. We're never going to be totally independent of those foreign sources, probably shouldn't try, but to the extent that we are dependent on those foreign sources, it's easy for a regime, such as Saddam Hussein and Iraq to hold us hostage, because they produce an important part of the world's oil reserves.
We think ANWR can be developed safely. ANWR is an area of 19 million acres in northern Alaska. We only need to disturb an area of about 2,000 acres on the surface in order to be able to develop the oil that we think is there. It's only a portion of the refuge that's of interest.
And today's modern technology, that would let you, for example, drill a well here at the White House -- one well -- and develop oil resources any place under the District of Columbia, offers the prospect of being able to go into a place like ANWR, develop the resource and leave an absolute minimal footprint behind. It does not require us to go to spoil 19 million acres of Alaska wilderness in order to get at that resource.
KING: One more on energy, and then I want to close on a few other issues quickly. The White House has ruled out any temporary cut in gas taxes to ease the burden at the pump right now. But if, as you send these proposal Capitol Hill, if the reaction back is, "Well, we need a compromise here to get some of this through, and we'll give you most of what you want here and most of what you want there, but we're up next year. You're not up until 2004. We have to face the voters in 2002," the members of Congress, if they say, "Let's suspend for a year, say, $.05 of the federal gas tax to help people at the pump," even if it's viewed as largely a symbolic gesture, would the administration be open to something like that if it were part of a larger comprehensive plan that were acceptable?
CHENEY: I haven't talked to the president about that, John. He'll have to make that call and decision if that were to come up, and I wouldn't want to signal one way or the other today.
The gas tax is going to build highways. Those are important considerations as well, too. So you'd have to balance off those competing demands to see whether or not it made sense.
KING: You're wrapping up work on this task force. The administration will announce later today that you are going to take the lead in yet another task force. This one: How should the United States reconfigure, if at all, how the federal government deals with the threat of domestic terrorism?
There have been some recommendations of creating a new agency to do so. For now, the administration is saying, "No, we'll create a new office in FEMA, the emergency management agency," and that you will take a look at this.
What is the goal of that task force, and what do you view as the principal threat?
CHENEY: Well, the concern here is that one of our biggest threats as a nation is no longer, sort of, the conventional military attack against the United States but, rather, that it might come from other quarters. It could be domestic terrorism, but it may also be a terrorist organization overseas or even another state using weapons of mass destruction against the U.S., a hand-carried nuclear weapon or biological or chemical agents.
The threat to the continental United States and our infrastructure is changing and evolving. And we need to look at this whole area, oftentimes referred to as homeland defense.
The president's asked me to take on the responsibility of overseeing all of that, reviewing the plans that are out there today. Joe Allbaugh and the folks at FEMA specifically have the responsibility, and we're working very closely with them to figure out how we'd best respond to that kind of disaster of major proportion that in effect would be manmade or man-caused.
All of this will be pulled together then for the National Security Council chaired by the president to see if there are any changes in policy, recommendations and legislation that we want to make to the Congress to make sure we're teed up, if you will, and organized in a way to effectively deal with this new threat.
KING: Another issue facing the administration, the defense secretary, a position you once held, your friend Don Rumsfeld now conducting a review to decide top to bottom how to change military spending. But among the issues, should the Pentagon abandon the strategy it has had for some time, essentially to be prepared to fight two wars at once.
From your experience now as vice president and the lessons of the Persian Gulf War, during which you were the defense secretary, what is your take there? Should the United States abandon that posture? And what specifically do you see coming out of this review?
CHENEY: We got to the two war scenario, really, at the end of the Cold War. It was something that Colin Powell and I developed as we reconfigured our forces as the Soviet Union collapsed. And it was a way for us to size the force, to decide how many divisions we needed; how many ships and so forth, and I think it's stood in pretty good stead up to now.
It may need to be changed. And Don is charged with the responsibility of looking at all of that. We've really got to decide whether we want a threat-based force, the kind of force, for example, we had during the Cold War, where we really looked at the Soviet Union, said, "That's the threat," and built a force to defend against it; whether you want a capabilities-based force, sit down and decide you need certain kinds of capabilities, that the world out there is pretty unpredictable at this point. It's not possible to specify the kind of threats you'll face in the future, so instead you focus rather on the kinds of forces you build and don't be quite that worried about the scenario. All of these options are being considered. All of this will come to the president. He'll have to make basic, fundamental decisions. It's a very, very big decision as we sort of lay out our military forces and defense strategy for the 21st century, and the president is heavily involved in that. Don's been reporting in almost on a weekly basis on the progress of those studies, and we'll have some decision shortly, I'm sure.
KING: When the administration took office, there were a lot of signals sent from yourself, the president, and others that perhaps the economy was teetering on the edge of recession. Conflicting evidence in recent days, some first quarter reports show growth OK, some think that would be revised downward; Dell Computer, big layoffs yesterday, other layoffs throughout the economy. Are we still at risk of recession?
CHENEY: I think we are. We don't know yet. The basic answer is, we don't know whether we're going to tip over into negative territory or whether we've sort of hit bottom here and we'll level out and begin to climb again. I think the long-term outlook for the economy is very good.
The question of what the second quarter of this year and third quarter are likely to be and how soon we can resume under more normal growth pattern, that's what we don't know yet.
KING: Let's close on a personal note. It was not long ago you were back at George Washington Hospital, having a blockage -- you had had a procedure during the transition, then you had to go back to have an artery blockage unblocked again. How are you feeling and what are you doctors telling you? I know you had at least one follow-up after the procedure. Have you had another and what are the...
KING: ... doctors tell you?
CHENEY: No. I live very close to my docs. They follow me around a lot. One of the things that happened with this job I didn't anticipate, is I've become the best-known heart patient in America. So there's great interest in everything I do. But, no, I'm doing fine. The doctors give me a clean bill of health. We watch it very closely. I might have to go back again at some point for another procedure, but if I have to, the technology's very good.
KING: And you were chief of staff in the Ford administration. You were frequently around here when you're in the Cabinet in the first Bush administration. How is it different, A, the job you're in, being the vice president of the United States, but how -- it's 27 years, I guess, since you were chief of staff....
KING: ... in the Ford administration. How is this job different and this town different, in your view, as your 100-plus days in this administration? CHENEY: It's changed your business. It's changed a lot and changed the town. During the Ford years, we sort of had the three networks we had to worry about on an evening news broadcast and the deadline for the morning newspapers. That sort of put the boundaries on the day in the news business.
Now with networks like CNN, it's 24 hours a day, and there's greater emphasis than ever before on speed. The news cycle is continuous. The audience out there around the world is dramatically bigger than ever before. I think it was more of a sense of sort of this instant feedback on what you say or do in these jobs that used to be the case. There's not much time to correct something. You'd better get it out right away. That's probably as big a difference.
I think the Congress relationships -- relationships with the Congress are tougher than they used to be back during the Ford days. But again, that was right on the heels of Watergate and the Congress had just impeached the president of the United States when Richard Nixon resigned. And that was a pretty tense period, too.
And then we went through a time in the Ford administration when things quieted down and President Ford restored trust and confidence in the country. And now it's still tense, but I think we're making progress in that regard. There's no reason why we shouldn't be able to work with the Congress. The president's committed to that and I think he's got the right tone and tenure (ph) here, and hopefully we'll have a positive impact just on the way the place works and the way people feel about one another.
KING: But what about you personally? You're here by a strange root. When you took the job as the head of the search committee for Governor Bush's running mate, you said you didn't want this job.
KING: Do you like the job? Are you having any fun?
CHENEY: I am having a ball. This is my fifth time in government. I left after 25 years and went to the private sector and thought that was it. Didn't plan ever to return, but the president prevailed on me to come back. And it's been an absolutely fascinating year.
The campaign was an amazing experience, the 35-day recount. Now to be back functioning as vice president, my third tour, I guess, in the White House. It has been a wondrous experience, really. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I love working for him.
And family's having a great time and you feel like you're making a significant contribution. And so, I don't regret it at all. I made the right decision.
KING: We will end it there, and I want to thank you. We stole a few extra minutes of your time and I appreciate that. The vice president says he's having fun, but some very difficult work just ahead, selling what is sure to be a very controversial Bush administration energy policy, as well as we learned today, taking the reigns of a new task force to assess the threat of domestic terrorism.
Daryn, back to you.
KAGAN: John, thank you very much. And thanks to Mr. Cheney, the vice president.
It was an interesting interview with our senior White House correspondent John King and Vice President Dick Cheney, much of it spent talking about energy policy and the energy plan that the Bush administration has for the country, which they will try to sell to the American public and to Congress.
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