Mounting tensions in the oil-rich Persian Gulf and the nation's increasing dependency on foreign oil have pushed energy issues into the fore-front of the 1988 presidential race.
Presidential hopeful Michael S. Dukakis, three-term governor of one of the biggest energy-consuming states, introduced energy as a major campaign issue in speeches in New Hampshire and Wyoming over the past week. Dukakis urged the nation to rely less on imported oil and to promote domestic oil production and conservation.
Most other Democratic and Republican candidates also have expressed doubts about the nation's current energy policies, criticizing the Reagan Administration for relying too heavily on imported oil and citing the Administration's failure to provide a concrete policy on conservation and domestic development.
"Today, the United States does not have an energy policy, and it shows," Dukakis said in a speech in New Hampshire. "It shows in the swings in energy prices that make our elderly on fixed income face the choice of keeping warm or having enough to eat. It shows in the $40 billion of our $170 billion trade deficit that represents imported oil."
"And while the domestic oil industry has been collapsing, our reliance on imported oil has grown. That's bad energy policy and bad foreign policy," the governor said.
Dukakis has proposed a major shift from current priorities, calling for development of domestic energy resources, a change in trading partners from the warring nations of the Persian Gulf to countries closer to home, such as Canada, Mexico and Venezuela. He also called for the U.S. to impose sanctions on Iran and Iraq.
Several other candidates have also warned of the future economic and political danger of being too dependent on foreign oil.
"By the 1990s we may become 50 percent dependent on foreign oil--that is an unprecedented level," said an aide to Sen. Robert Dole (R-Ks.) who asked not to be identified.
In addition, Dukakis said in recent speeches that the Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR) should be filled to capacity. The SPR program, created in the late 1970s, stores barrels of oil in some Southern states for use in case of a major supply disruption.
The reserves currently are filled to about two-thirds of the 750 million barrel capacity. If filled, the barrels would be able to supply the nation with oil for more than three years.
The governor, along with most of the other candidates, has come out against an oil import tax, calling it "a $50 billion burden on the American economy," and he advocates repealing the windfall profits tax.
Former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbit also opposes an oil import fee. Babitt favors research in renewable energy technology, such as superconductivity, to reduce U.S. dependency instead of a tariff, said Vada Manager, an aide to the Democratic hopeful.
Another proposed alternative to a tariff is incentives for domestic industries, especially natural gas companies, said Mary S. Brunette, deputy communications director to Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.).
But Sen. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.) favors an oil import fee "only if it is part of a balanced non-inflationary program," said Doritt L. Carroll, Gore's issues coordinator.
According to the Massachusetts House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, the Reagan Administration appropriated $5.4 billion for civilian energy use in 1981, $4.2 billion in 1987, and is requesting only $3.4 billion for 1988. As a result of the proposed cut, more than 2.5 million low-income individuals no longer would receive assistance.
Conversely, the Administration's appropriations for atomic defense have almost doubled in the same time. In 1981 the budget was $3.6 billion, in 1987 it was $7.6 billion. Reagan has asked Congress to appro- priate $8.2 billion for 1988.
"[Sen. Paul Simon said] this current level offunding is inadequate," said Teresita Heiser.Simon's assistant issues director, Simon's energypolicy, similar to Dukakis's, also proposes thedevelopment of domestic resources, including coalresearch, and alternative sources of energy suchas ethanol and solar energy.
Vice President George Bush does not have anenergy plan for public release, and campaignofficials refused to comment on Bush's view of theReagan Administration's energy policy