Well, it looks like administration backpedaling away from Bush’s SOTU pronouncements on energy has gone into overdrive. As noted, the day after the speech the energy secretary and national economic advisor told journalists he didn’t really mean it.

Now the Vice President has been activated and launched from his underground coffin bunker to ease the fears of conservatives and oil companies. This is from Maureen Dowd’s latest column (yes, I know you can’t read it — sorry):

Conservatives were so gobsmacked by W.’s promise to have the government drum up nonpetroleum energy options — Robert Novak huffed that it not only violated G.O.P. free-market philosophy, but it also had "a lengthy pedigree of failure" — that the vice president had to swiftly lumber onto conservative radio shows to praise drilling and gas guzzling.

Asked by Rush Limbaugh if drilling in Alaska was now out, Mr. Cheney said: "No, it’s not off the table by any means. We’ll keep pushing it because we think it makes eminent good sense."

Asked by Laura Ingraham if he agreed with Tom Friedman that the administration should impart pain with a gas tax, Mr. Cheney demurred, "Well, I don’t agree with that." He said that he and W. are "big believers" in the market and letting the market work, and that people "make decisions for themselves in terms of what kind of vehicle they want to drive, and how often they want to fill up the tank, and from the perspective of individual American citizens, this notion that we have to ‘impose pain,’ some kind of government mandate, I think we would resist."

Here’s the full Ingraham interview. Below the fold, I’ve excerpted the relevant Q&A:

Q And renewable energy really got the headlines, and the "addiction to oil" line in the State of the Union speech. And Tom Friedman wrote a piece in The New York Times today saying, well, it was great to hear that, but unless we really give people — make it painful for people to drive as much, to be as addicted to their SUVs as they are, then we’re not going to push this forward as fast as we could. We can’t wait six years for this alternative fuel vehicle to be in operation. How do you respond to that?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I don’t agree with that. I think — the President and I believe very deeply that, obviously, the government has got a role to play here in terms of supporting research into new technologies and encouraging the development of new methods of generating energy and powering our economy. And we’re doing that. And that was a lot of what he announced in his speech on Tuesday night.

But we also are big believers in the market, and that we need to be careful about having government come in, for example, and tell people how to live their lives, that the market does work, that people make adjustments and make decisions for themselves in terms of what kind of vehicle they want to drive, and how often they want to fill up the tank, and from the perspective of individual American citizens, this notion that we have to "impose pain," some kind of government mandate, I think we would resist. The marketplace does work out there. People do make decisions, for example, to use less energy when it gets expensive, and to find ways to be more efficient.

There’s a strong economic incentive in the marketplace for us to become much more efficient in how we use energy. We have, in the last 25 years, gotten roughly twice as efficient as we used to be. That is, we use only half as much energy per unit of output today as we did in 1980. That’s the marketplace at work. That’s not because government mandated some pain on the American economy.