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Don't dismiss conservation



Published: Sun, May 6, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



It is not as if we expected that two old oil men like President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney would draft an energy policy that called for Americans to begin driving clown cars or reading by candlelight.

But we did expect more than the virtual dismissal of the role conservation and energy efficiency could play in helping America deal with a looming energy shortage. And we did expect more than a policy that can best be summed up in "drill, dig and build we must." Drill for more oil and gas, dig more coal and build more power plants.

It was galling to hear Cheney, whom Bush has named to draft a national energy policy, dismiss conservation with this patronizing tidbit: "It may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not enough for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."

Some numbers: Cheney's idea of a sound energy policy is to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But wait, that would produce about a half-million barrels of oil a day, less than 3 percent of what America uses and about 5 percent of the nation's imports.

That much oil could be saved if the nation's average fuel economy for cars were increased by four miles per gallon from the current 25 mpg.

And Cheney's idea for solving the shortage of electricity is to build 1,300 to 1,900 new power plants over the next 20 years.

But wait again. If each household in the United States replaced four regular 100-watt bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, about 30 of those new power plants would never be needed. And if efficiency standards for air conditioners and heat pumps improved energy use by 30 percent instead of the 20 percent the Bush administration supports, another 138 of those power plants wouldn't be needed.

The point is that conservation and new technology alone cannot solve America's looming energy crisis. But neither can drilling for every last drop of recoverable oil as if there is no tomorrow.

It would be somewhat encouraging if the Bush administration acknowledged that.




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