October 3, 2005

Bush admin launches energy conservation campaign

By Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With U.S. heating bills expected to
hit record highs this winter, the Bush administration on Monday
dusted off mostly old energy conservation tips and urged
consumers to add home insulation and turn down thermostats.

Critics said the conservation tips were nothing new and the
administration was only trying to protect itself from consumer
complaints this winter over high utility bills.

Americans face higher heating fuel bills this winter due in
part to crippled oil refineries, natural gas processing plants
and energy producing platforms in the Gulf of Mexico from
Hurricanes Rita and Katrina.

In the Midwest, the region most dependent on natural gas
for heating, winter bills will jump by 71 percent from last
year, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Nationally, heating oil expenses will rise 34 percent and
electricity bills 11 percent, the EIA recently forecast.

Energy Secretary Sam Bodman and the Alliance to Save Energy
consumer group on Monday launched what was billed as a major
campaign to encourage Americans to cut energy use this winter.

To help sell the conservation campaign, the administration
will use its new cartoon figure, the Energy Hog, to warn
consumers about wasting energy. Hoping to have the same impact
as Smokey Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog, the government's
Energy Hog -- a pig wearing blue jeans and a leather jacket --
will soon appear in magazines and on billboards.

Public service announcements sent to 4,500 radio stations
say that consumers "have the power" to manage their energy
bills and ease "the pinch of high energy prices." The radio
spots address home heating, gasoline and appliances.

One radio commercial encourages consumers to install
sufficient insulation in their homes and use a programmable
thermostat to lower winter heating bills. Another focuses on
automobile maintenance and driving tips in order to get the
most out of every gallon of gas, such as reducing driving

"This effort will provide consumers, industry and federal
agencies with a variety of energy savings ideas, which if done
properly, can yield significant savings," Bodman said.

He refused to estimate how much energy could be saved.

President George W. Bush last week urged Americans to avoid
nonessential car trips and promised to impose the same
guideline for federal workers.

Democrats in their weekly radio address Saturday criticized
Bush for not taking significant steps to cut U.S. energy use.

"High fuel costs are costing people their jobs, their
pensions and their businesses," said Sen. Maria Cantwell of
Washington. Energy conservation "must be more than a convenient
slogan," she said.

Environmental groups, many Democrats and some Republicans
have long insisted that meaningful cuts in U.S. energy use can
only come through a big boost in vehicle mileage standards,
which is opposed by the White House.

Mark Cooper, research director at the Consumer Federation
of America, said the administration offered no new ideas to
save energy and overlooked several big ones, such as much
higher mileage requirements for vehicles and issuing stronger
energy efficiency standards for appliances and products.

"The fact that they're pushing conservation and have failed
to promote efficiency shows just how AWOL they have been on the
energy policy beat," he said. "They're warning Americans (about
this winter) because they know the inevitable backlash to the
rising prices."

Bodman said the administration is ready this winter, if
necessary, to tap in to the government's emergency stockpiles
of crude oil and heating oil.

To help businesses, the Energy Department will send experts
to the 200 U.S. plants that use the most energy to try to find
ways to be more energy-efficient, he said.

For its part, the Alliance group developed a database of
state and local tax incentives and programs that support and
encourage energy efficiency.

On Wednesday, the Bush administration will launch a
national effort to persuade consumers to switch to light bulbs
that use less electricity. Nearly 20 percent of U.S.
residential electricity demand is for lighting.

For all of 2005, U.S. energy expenditures are expected to
rise to $1.08 trillion, up 24 percent from last year, according
to the U.S. government. That represents 8.7 percent of U.S.
annual gross domestic product, the biggest share of GDP since

However, that estimate does not reflect the full impact of
Hurricane Rita, which hit the Texas-Louisiana border on
September 24 and will push total energy costs even higher for