Cheney says price caps, pressure on OPEC won't solve energy crisis

WASHINGTON (AP) - Vice President Dick Cheney is offering few encouraging words for Democrats seeking immediate relief for California's energy crisis.

"They got into trouble in California over a period of years, and it's going to take two or three years to get out of it," Cheney said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation." "There are going to be blackouts this summer."

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she was appalled that President Bush is not considering price caps or investigating companies she said are charging exorbitant prices for electricity. She noted that both Cheney and Bush are former oil industry executives.

"It's really rather stunning because those of us who are living through this have suggested many things," Boxer said on CBS. "So the vice president sits very coolly, and I admire his cool, but he really sounds like an oilman, not a vice president charged with helping the people."

If dairy farmers sought as much profit as oil companies _ in some cases, 1,600 percent a gallon of milk would cost $190, she said.

But Cheney, chief architect of the administration energy plan released last week, said capping prices would not increase energy supplies or reduce demand.

"We get politicians who want to go out and blame somebody and allege there is some kind of conspiracy, whether it's the oil companies or whoever it might be, instead of dealing with the real issues," Cheney told NBC's "Meet the Press."

He criticized California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, for what he called a "harebrained scheme" to use the state's budget surplus to buy power.

For the short term, the administration has approved Davis' request to expedite permits for new power plants and has ordered federal facilities in California to reduce energy consumption this summer by 10 percent.

Cheney said the answer to long-term price stability lies in building more oil refineries in the United States and in reviewing a system whereby different states require different blends of fuel some mixed with the corn additive ethanol, for example _ to meet clean air standards.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Congress should look into at least temporarily suspending the 18.4-cent-a-gallon federal gasoline tax

Cheney said, however, that would pose problems for the highway trust fund, which relies on that tax to build and maintain the nation's transportation infrastructure.

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