Conservative Groups Launch Energy Counter-Offensive

By Mark Mead | July 7, 2008 | 8:27pm EDT

( - Saying it's high time to fill "the vacuum" of debate on the energy issue, a coalition of conservative think tanks and advocacy groups launched a counter-offensive this week against opponents of President George Bush's energy plan, pledging to "educate the public" on the "liberal energy agenda."

The 21st Century Energy Project (21CEP) outlined its widespread media campaign at a press conference this week.

At the announcement, a print ad demonstrated exactly what kind of message the group has for America: "Remember the '70s? Gas lines were long, rationing was in, Jimmy Carter was president and he told us to wear a sweater. Liberal elites think that's still the answer." And, "Conservation alone won't keep the lights on."

The campaign is employing radio and print ads, targeted all over the country, with a concentration on California, the focal point of the energy crisis.

21CEP seeks to "coordinate the resources of organizations who share a commitment to a market-oriented response to the imbalance between our nation's supply and demand for energy."

Robert Fike, federal affairs manager of Americans for Tax Reform, one of the nine member groups of the project, said the formation of the coalition was inevitable.

"We needed to organize some sort of concerted effort," he said, "not necessarily in favor of the Bush plan per se, but the ideas behind it. We said, 'There's a vacuum that needs to be filled, so let's do it.'"

Fike added, "People just don't know about [the energy issue], and if they have heard about it, they've been hearing a slanted version."

Various groups, as well as national legislators, have assembled in protest of the president's energy plan since it was unveiled in April.

Many claim energy deregulation, increased production, and a continuation of alleged price gouging by out-of-state energy producers would worsen the situation, and further spoil the environment.

Just this week, California Democratic Gov. Gray Davis unleashed a drive against the Bush proposal and, in the wake of his unsuccessful meeting with the president, says he will sue the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to obtain caps on fuel prices in his state.

But Ed Gillespie, director of 21CEP, says opponents of the president's plan are misguided.

"Government-mandated reductions in energy consumption will harm our quality of life," he said at the press conference. "We can increase production in an environmentally sensitive manner."

Fike joins Gillespie in saying the Bush plan is the more sensible alternative. "The Bush plan is rooted in reality," he said. "Silly us, we like to have light. We like to have heat. We like to be able to drive our cars around. We see nothing wrong with that."

Citizens against Government Waste, another 21CEP member, says the Democratic Party's energy proposal is not an attractive alternative to Bush's plan.

"The Democratic plan feeds the growing hysteria over energy and the environment in order to camouflage the core problems that have left families in the dark out West," CAGW President Thomas Schatz said.

Fike deflects charges from Bush critics who say the president's plan will damage the environment.

"It's not some grand scheme to take all of our natural resources and put them in one gigantic pyre and set it alight," Fike said. "We're simply using the resources that we have available in a responsible way so that we can keep our lights on."

When asked about the duration of the media campaign, Fike said, "It's going to take a while. We're in it for the long haul. We're in it for as long as it takes, and we're convinced we can win this," he said.

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