Bush Energy Plan Whacks Conservation ; More Than a Dozen Efficiency Efforts Are Set for Trims or Elimination as the Administration Pushes Long-Term Projects

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A few years ago a little-known US Energy Department program helped produce a design technology for lightweight cars and trucks that in 2004 alone saved the nation 122 million barrels of oil, or about $9 billion.

Even without that breakthrough, the tiny Industrial Technologies Program routinely saves the United States $7 worth of energy for each dollar it spends, proponents say.

So, with energy prices spiking and President Bush pushing for more energy research, the ITP would seem a natural candidate for more funding. In fact, its budget is set to get chopped by a third from its 2005 level. It's one of more than a dozen energy- efficiency efforts that the Energy Department plans to trim or eliminate in a $115 million cost-saving move.

The push to solve the nation's energy woes are bumping up against the federal government's budget problems. To be sure, the Bush administration is anxious to fund its new Advanced Energy Initiative - long-term research into nuclear, coal, wind, solar, and hydrogen power. But to accomplish that, it is cutting lesser-known programs like ITP whose payoffs are far more near-term.

"This is the worst time to be cutting these programs," says William Prindle, deputy director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a Washington think tank. "At this point in time, with high energy prices and pressures, you'd think maybe we'd want to invest in a suite of energy-efficiency programs that make a dent right away."

If Congress accepts the Energy Department's proposed 2007 budget, it will cut $152 million - some 16 percent - from this year's budget for energy-efficiency programs. Adjusting for inflation, it would mean the US government would spend 30 percent less on energy efficiency next year than it did in 2002, the ACEEE says.

Such cuts reflect a shift in priorities toward programs that could offer much bigger energy breakthroughs, the Energy Department says.

"Tough choices had to be made, and we had to realign priorities," writes Christina Kielich, a DOE spokeswoman in an e-mail. "Some programs within the energy- efficiency budget have reached a point to be considered mature technologies" that require less funding.

To others, it's a penny-wise and pound-foolish move, particularly ironic for a nation hard-pressed to reduce energy bills.

"Because of high gas prices and energy prices, I just wouldn't have expected a program that helps the little guy, small business, to take this kind of hit," says Michael Muller, a Rutgers University engineering professor and national coordinator for the ITP's Industrial Assessment Centers. "They haven't said it doesn't work. They say it's because of other higher priorities."

One energy-efficiency program on the chopping block is the Heavy Vehicle Propulsion and Ancillary Subsystems. It helps improve the fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks, one of the nation's biggest oil consumers. That program is "zeroed out" in the 2007 budget request.

The same fate awaits the $4.5 million Building Codes Implementation Grants program. It helps states adopt more energy- efficient requirements for new buildings, the nation's largest consumer of electricity and natural gas.

The $8 million Clean Cities program has helped clean-fuel technologies, like buses that run on compressed natural gas, get to market. But it's slated for a $2. …