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15 August 2003

Bush Says U.S. Needs New Power Grid

Calls blackout in Northeast a "wake-up call"

President Bush says the United States must modernize its power network to avoid in the future power blackouts like the one that, beginning August 14, affected the northeastern part of the country.

Speaking August 15 to reporters at a national park in California, Bush said he has been concerned for some time that the U.S. power delivery system is "old and antiquated," and he called the massive blackout a "wake-up call." He added that part of his energy plan -- now being considered by Congress -- recognizes that the power grid needs to be modernized.

Bush said he is pleased that emergency systems, which have been improved after the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, worked well.

"I doubt that ...the response would have been this good prior to September 11," Bush said.

Following is the transcript of president's remarks:

(begin transcript)

Office of the Press Secretary (Irvine, California)

August 15, 2003

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area Thousand Oaks, CA

8:35 A.M. PDT

Q: Do you have time for a couple of questions?

BUSH: Yes, I'll answer a couple of questions.

Q: Can you update us on the situation back east, what you've heard, whether there's been any progress toward finding out what possibly caused the blackout?

BUSH: Yes, it's going to take a while, I think. But we will find out what caused the blackout, and we'll deal with it. I view it as a wake-up call. You know, I've been concerned that our infrastructure -- the delivery system is old and antiquated. And I think this is an indication of the fact that we need to modernize the electricity grid.

So it's a good opportunity for us to analyze what went wrong and to deal with it. We don't know yet what went wrong, but we will.

Q: There's a bill pending in Congress, the energy bill, that's pretty broad in scope. There's also a piece of that bill that's smaller that would fix this particular problem. Would you urge Congress to act on that?

BUSH: Yes, I think what we need to do is take a look at what went wrong, analyze the problem and come up with a solution. And I think it's very important -- I'm going to say this down here in the remarks -- the people in New York and in the Northeast and in parts of the Midwest were -- showed the great character of America in very difficult circumstances. The people responded in calm fashion. They worked hard to help their neighbors in need, and they showed the rest of the country and the world the true mettle of the American people.

As I said yesterday, I'm most pleased by the fact that we've got a -- our emergency response was good. They acted well. And I doubt that would have happened -- the response would have been this good -- prior to September the 11th. But the creation of the Homeland Security Department, coupled with the modernization of communications between state and local and federal officials, really enabled the system to work well. And now we've got to figure out how to make the electricity system have the redundancy necessary so that if there is an outage, like there has been throughout our history, that it doesn't affect as many people as it did in the past.

Q: Sir, are you worried, though, that power still isn't restored to so many millions of people and may not be through the weekend?

BUSH: Well, I think, you know -- listen, everybody is working hard to get it restored as quickly as possible. I think it's going to take a while to get a hundred percent of the power up and running. And that's why it's important for our citizens who have got electricity in the Northeast and the Midwest would be wise about how they use the electricity. They must conserve, because the more conservation there is now, the more likely it is their neighbor is going to end up having electricity in a quicker fashion.

Q: In recent weeks you have mentioned several times the need to pass your comprehensive energy plan. Is there anything in there that would have helped or mitigated this?

BUSH: Well, I think part of the plan recognizes that the grid needs to be modernized, the delivery systems need to be modernized. And obviously something like this isn't going to happen overnight. But it is -- it begins to address the problem, that this particular incident has made abundantly clear to the American people that we've got an antiquated system, and now we've got to figure out what went wrong and how to address it. And I'm confident we will.

Q: You said yesterday that while you've made some offers of federal assistance, the states and locals didn't really seem to need much help, they had it under control. Is that still the situation?

BUSH: Actually, as I understand it, as of this morning, at about 5:30 a.m. Pacific Coast time, there was a request for a generator by New York City from the Department of Defense, which we're now working on delivering.

Look, for example, Tommy Thompson started calling around to hospitals and asking, did everybody get what they need? And Tom Ridge was calling, which made it clear -- abundantly clear -- that where we had assets that could help, we're more than willing to help. This is a national problem, and the federal government has got a responsibility to help local and state officials. As far as I know, the one specific request to date was this generator.

Thank you all.

END 8:40 A.M. PDT

(end transcript)