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A-10 Thursday, May 11, 2000

North County Times

U.S. to present dual roles at conference

By Ben Fox

Associated Press

San Diego- US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson will play what many seem to be contradictory roles as he meets his counterparts from other nations at tow international conferences in San Diego this week and next.

On the one hand, Richardson plans to express concern to energy ministers from at least three major oil-producing nations that the world's fuel supply is too low and could cause gas prices in the United States to spike skyward again.

But he also will continue to promote renewable resources and alternative fuels, especially in the fast-growing developing nations of the Asia-Pacific region.

The dual roles are an unavoidable consequence of energy politics in the United States, said Peter Meisen, president of the Global Energy Network Institute, a research organization participating in the two-day meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, which starts today at the Marriott Hotel in San Diego.

"There's the long-term strategy and the short-term need," Meisen said. "When people see gas at $1.80 or $2 a gallon they want to know what the energy secretary is doing about it."

Richardson is the highest ranking US official attending the APEC energy conference. He also plans to attend a two Latin American energy conference starting Monday at UC San Diego's Institute of the Americas.

APEC, made up of 21 member nations, promotes economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region and its members generally hold cordial meetings to exchange ideas, said Richard Feinberg, an economist at UCSD who tracks the organization.

The United States hopes to coax other nations to reduce their reliance on fossil fuel that cause pollution and may contribute to global warming, Richardson said.

"If there's one message that we can send to future generations in the developing world it's Don't pollute the way we did in the industrialized world," he said in a speech to the World Affairs Council of San Diego Tuesday night.

He issued much the same message earlier Tuesday at an alternative fuel conference, saying the United States must reduce its "unhealthy" reliance on foreign oil.

"If we are going to get off this gas price roller coaster, we have to improve the fuel economy of vehicles and use more alternative fuels," he said.

But meeting with reporters afterward, Richardson said the United States is still closely monitoring oil prices in hopes of avoiding another spike like that of March, when the per-barrel cost hit a nine-year-high of more that $34.

In response to the high prices, Richardson found himself trying to coax more production from oil-producing nations. The Organizational of Petroleum Exporting Countries did increase the flow of crude, and gas prices have fallen an average of 11 cents a gallon since then, Richardson said.

While the United States hasn't decided whether to ask for increased production from OPEC, whose leaders meet again in June, Richardson said he has"concern" that global fuel stocks are lower this year than last.