San Diego Union-Tribune

May 4, 2001

Bush orders federal workers to help by cutting power use


WASHINGTON -- Just days after his energy point man dismissed the importance of conservation, President Bush yesterday told federal workers in power-starved California to turn up the office thermostat and dim the lights to help the state cope with electricity shortages.

Political analysts said the new conservation initiative, which applies to federal facilities nationwide, appeared to mark another attempt by the administration to step back from a position that has proved
controversial. The White House faced criticism for Vice President Dick Cheney's remark Monday that "conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound,
comprehensive energy policy."

While Bush did not disown Cheney's comments, he did try to soften them. 

"I think conservation has got to be an integral part of making sure we've got a reasonable energy policy," he said. "But what the vice president was saying is we can't conserve our way to energy
independence, nor can we conserve our way to having enough energy available. ... We've also got to find new sources of energy."

Bush has been criticized by Democrats and environmentalists for an emerging energy policy that focuses heavily on increased power production and for proposing to slash spending on conservation

"This is a pattern that we've seen before," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior scholar at the University of Southern California's School of Policy, Planning and Development. "What Cheney said positioned
the administration too close to the interests of the oil patch. This is a way of restructuring that image."

She compared the conservation plan to several high-profile steps the administration took to mend its environmental image after facing criticism for reviewing tougher standards for arsenic in drinking water and abandoning a global warming treaty.

Bush ordered federal agencies in California -- which consume an estimated 1.8 to 2 percent of the state's power -- to cut their electricity usage, particularly when power reserves fall below 5 percent and a Stage 2 emergency is declared in the state.

Among the measures recommended: cranking thermostats up to 78 degrees, shutting off nonessential lighting, halting escalators.

The Pentagon outlined an even more aggressive role for California's many military installations. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said they plan to cut power use during peak periods by 10 percent this summer and 15 percent next summer.

Military bases also will look for new sources of power, he said, like using a now idled wind-driven generation facility at Edwards Air Force Base.

Overall, the moves should add 200 megawatts of electricity to California's grid, Wolfowitz said. A megawatt can power between 750 and 1,000 homes.

The Navy has already reduced electricity usage in San Diego by 11 percent since June, according to Navy officials.

In addition to conservation efforts at the three major bases here, the Navy has awarded contracts totaling $20.8 million to install energy-efficient lighting, motors and air conditioning at area bases. An additional $30 million in similar projects is expected to be awarded later this month. An additional $2.1 million is being spent to retrofit 2,400 industrial lights with more energy-efficient lamps.

Also, Pentagon officials said that on-base housing will no longer be exempt from rolling blackouts. Federal rules exempt military bases from intentional cut-offs.

Bush ordered all federal agencies, including the White House, to report on conservation measures within 30 days.

Some Republicans, meanwhile, hope Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's two-day visit to California begins a new chapter in the administration's rocky relationship with the state -- which voted
overwhelmingly for Bush's Democratic rival, Al Gore.

"Sending out Secretary Abraham is an important first step," said California Republican strategist Dan Schnur.

However, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and other California officials say Bush's conservation initiative is still far too little.

William Keese, chairman of the California Energy Commission, said the federal effort could shave a significant amount of power demand during shortages. But to make a real difference, the conservation
measures need to be in force around the clock, he said.

"The biggest need we have in California is price containment," added Keese, a step that the Bush has ruled out.

"While I appreciate the president's proposal, surely the federal government can do more and match California's 20 percent savings at all state buildings," Davis said in a statement released by his office.

Abraham was prepared for the criticism.

"Every time we take an action, there's someone, somewhere who says you should be doing something different. But we think this is the most constructive action we can take at this time," he told reporters at the White House before leaving for Sacramento. "Our first and foremost focus is going to be on those periods in which the greatest potential exists for a blackout."