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
"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
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. …