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Administration Kicks Off Campaign to Lower Winter Fuel Consumption

The Bush administration last week kicked off a national campaign aimed at helping U.S. residential consumers, businesses and the federal government conserve energy this winter in response to escalating prices for home heating fuels.

"As a result of tight oil and gas markets, and the damage done by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it's likely that consumers will see an increase in their heating bills this winter...This effort will provide consumers, industry and federal agencies with a variety of energy-saving ideas, which if done properly, can yield significant savings," said Energy Secretary Sam Bodman.

The Bush administration is sort of late to the party. Utilities nationwide have been warning customers for months to take conservation and efficiency steps to help reduce consumption in the face of higher prices, particularly for natural gas, during the upcoming heating season that officially starts on Nov. 1. Senate Democrats last Monday called the campaign "toothless," and urged President Bush in a letter to instruct federal agencies to begin immediately complying with a Clinton-era executive order that sought to cut the agencies' petroleum consumption by 20% in 2005.

Bodman is expected to travel the country over the next several months to discuss how U.S. families and energy-intensive businesses, such as chemical and steel-making plants, can save energy and money during the winter season.

The Department of Energy (DOE) said it is releasing three radio public service announcements in English and Spanish that will offer easy tips for saving energy. The radio announcements will be distributed to nearly 4,500 radio stations across the nation by the Alliance to Save Energy. The agency also has published an "Energy Savers' Guide," which is available at www.energysavers.gov.

Two of the most effective federal programs in helping U.S. consumers deal with high winter energy bills are the Weatherization Assistance Program and Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. However, the federal government plans to allocate $228 million to weatherize only 92,500 homes this year, which is below the 94,450 homes that were weatherized in 2004. And it's unclear at this stage whether Congress will allocate more funds to assist low-income customers with their bills this winter.

In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the American Gas Association (AGA) has urged Congress to allocate an additional $1.3 billion on top of the $2.2 billion already set aside for energy assistance to low-income customers this winter. It also requested that lawmakers include the maximum authorization of $5.1 billion for the program in its fiscal year 2006 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill (see NGI, Oct. 3).

As for businesses and the federal government, the DOE said it plans to send teams of energy efficiency experts to these facilities to identify quick and easy ways to save on their fuel bills this winter. The federal government is the largest consumer of energy in the United States.

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