BUSH offering proposals to promote conservation

Saturday, May 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Under criticism for focusing too much on energy production, President Bush said Saturday his national energy plan will promote conservation steps for the home, at work and in industrial plants

The White House said a Cabinet-level task force will recommend tax changes and easing of regulations to spur the development of power plants that produce both electricity and heat, and thereby use less energy.

The task force also will recommend expansion of the government's Energy Star program that helps industry develop energy efficiency plans and promotes energy-efficient products, and will ask Congress to give tax credits for buyers of hybrid gas-electric automobiles.

These automobiles, which only now are coming onto the market, can get three times the fuel efficiency of most conventional gas-powered vehicles. The unspecified tax credit would be in effect from 2002-2007.

In his weekly radio address, Bush said his energy proposals would ``harnesses new technology to squeeze as much out of a barrel of oil as we have learned to squeeze out of a computer chip.''

``We can raise our standard of living wisely and in harmony with our environment,'' he said.

With the release of the energy package this coming week, Bush was getting pressure, even from some of his strong supporters, to pay more attention to conservation.

Some Republican lawmakers and key business lobbyists expressed concern in recent days that unless Bush's energy blueprint focuses more on saving energy, as well as producing it, the package would not win congressional approval.

In his radio remarks, Bush said he would encourage companies to explore ways to conserve energy resources, such as making appliances more efficient, installing sensors to shut off lights in empty rooms and upgrading power transmission lines to make them less wasteful.

``This week, we will introduce a comprehensive energy plan to help bring new supplies of energy to the market, and we will be encouraging Americans to use more wisely the energy supplies that exist today,'' he said.

The White House said among the proposals will be to expand the federal Energy Star program to include schools, health care facilities and homes. No mention was made of increasing spending on the program, which earlier this year was targeted for budget cuts.

The task force also will recommend that the Environmental Protection Agency make it easier to build co-generation power plants that produce both electricity and heat, thereby wasting much less energy than conventional power plants.

Congressional unrest over the president's conservation efforts surfaced this week as both Republicans and Democrats hammered the administration for deep cuts in energy efficiency programs in the Energy Department's proposed budget.

``Energy efficiency has to be part of a balanced energy strategy,'' Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., told Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham at a Senate hearing.

A few days earlier at a similar hearing in the House, Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said the type of efficiency programs the administration wants to cut have been ``extraordinarily successful'' and paid for themselves. He cited one study showing $7 million in efficiency investments produced $51 million in energy savings.

The issue of conservation vs. production is expected to be a focus of debate as Congress crafts energy legislation in the coming months.

The Bush budget would cut about $150 million, or more than 40 percent, from research programs to develop more energy efficient buildings, energy conservation programs for industry, and development of more fuel efficient automobile. It cuts in half a program to help the government reduce its energy costs.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Budget Committee, also expressed concern about the cuts, but said he was confident money would be increased and that the Bush energy proposals will include ``a sizable conservation component.''

``We need a balanced approach. We need conservation and we need production,'' agreed Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska., seeking to blunt a barrage of criticism from Democrats.