The Department of Energy’s (DOE) proposed $88 million in budget cuts for energy efficiency research and development in fiscal 2005 marks a “retreat” from the agency’s prior commitment to tackle escalating natural gas prices, said the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

“The DOE budget mocks a commitment to energy efficiency as the nation’s only near-term response to the natural gas crisis,” said Bill Prindle, policy director for the Washington, DC-based independent group. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham “made commitments last year to use energy efficiency as the first line of defense against high gas prices. But this budget is a retreat from that commitment.”

Just last week, 11 CEOs of major manufacturing companies sent a letter to President Bush and key congressional leaders, calling for serious new energy efficiency efforts to address the unfolding gas crisis, which has sent thousands of U.S. jobs overseas and burdened the economic recovery with more than $100 billion in added costs, the ACEEE group said.

At the Natural Gas Summit held by DOE last June, Abraham stressed the importance of energy efficiency as a way to address the growing shortage of natural gas supplies in the country. The National Petroleum Council’s report last fall also called for increased energy efficiency to tame gas prices.

The omnibus energy bill would increase authorizations for energy efficiency by 50% over five years, but the measure faces an uncertain future in Congress, the council noted. “Whether or not the bill passes, the DOE budget is the administration’s best available tool to use in responding to the natural gas crisis,” Prindle said.

“Congress needs to raise this [budget] request if we are going to find real solutions to the natural gas problem.”

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