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Energy Department launches conservation campaign

WASHINGTON—In a move reminiscent of the 1970s, U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman urged Americans Monday to drive slower, turn down the thermostat and conserve energy as the coming winter threatens to bring record prices to heat a home.

Bodman announced a new national campaign called "Easy Ways to Save Energy" and said he would travel the nation to promote energy conservation.

"Because of the increasing demand for energy and the damage that has been inflicted on America's energy infrastructure in the Gulf Coast region by hurricanes Rita and Katrina, Americans can expect to see higher energy costs, higher costs to heat and power our homes, our schools as well as our places of business," Bodman warned.

The Energy Information Administration, a division of the Energy Department, has predicted that home-heating costs may rise by as much as 71 percent this winter in some regions. Such high costs for natural gas, propane and home heating oil will come on top of all-time high gasoline prices.

The Bush administration's campaign—complete with a mascot called the Energy Hog—seeks to promote conservation at home, the office and on the road.

But it doesn't set fixed goals for reducing energy demand. Nor does it suggest a target temperature for home thermostats. Energy Department spokesman Michael D. Waldron said it's up to Americans to determine their comfort zone while seeking to conserve energy.

The decision to avoid targets may come from reluctance to imitate President Jimmy Carter, who was lampooned after ordering in January 1977 that temperatures in federal buildings be no more than 65 degrees during the day and for wearing a gray cardigan on TV while touting conservation.

Yet Carter spent much of his four-year term enacting a comprehensive energy policy. His policies helped drive down U.S. consumption of foreign oil, from 48 percent when Carter took office to 40 percent in 1980, with a reduction of 1.8 million barrels a day.

President Bush and his team aren't donning sweaters just yet—or designing comprehensive energy policies beyond trusting the market and providing incentives to industry. But to lead by example, White House thermostats have been ordered set at 72 degrees. Staffers are being reminded to turn off lights and shut off computers when away from the office.

Otherwise, Bodman's counsel was similar to Carter's emphasis on voluntary conservation steps. Bodman suggested driving 55 mph—slower than the speed limit on many state and federal highways—car pooling, using mass transit and improving home insulation.

"Individual action from every American can add up to a tremendous collective effort and can produce significant results," Bodman said.

In addition, the Energy Department will send teams of experts to review federal buildings across the nation with an eye on greater energy savings. It's also preparing 30 teams of energy-efficiency experts to help 200 of the nation's highest energy-consuming companies find new efficiencies. The department didn't identify any of the companies.

"What this policy is is a lot of face-saving to cover their behinds," said Mark Cooper, director of the Consumer Federation of America in Washington. "This is a PR campaign to try and cushion the blow" from higher energy prices.

The federation says that the Bush administration has failed to revise energy-efficiency standards for home appliances, which could save Americans money. These include standards for air conditioners, central air systems, dishwashers, clothes dryers, furnaces, ranges and the like.

Will the Energy Department's new campaign prod Americans to save energy?

"I think the price effect of rising energy costs will have more of a deterrence effect," said Marshall Steeves, an energy analyst for Refco Inc. in New York.

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For more on the campaign and energy saving tips, go to: www.energysavers.gov, www.ase.org, www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/saveenv.pdf.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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