Save energy like your Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam, it seems, is starting to pay greater heed to complaints that he has been setting a poor energy-conservation example for the rest of us. Officials in the General Services Administration, which operates and maintains federal facilities across the US, talk of a new determination within the Carter administration, and within the GSA in particular, to provide stronger leadership in energy savings. A number of positive steps already have been initiated and other innovative ones are planned, according to john Holton, director of the GSA's Energy Conservation Division. If the government can, in fact, translate its good intentions into effective conservation measures, that would be an accomplishment all Americans could cheer about.

In his State of the Union address President Carter warned that US dependence on foreign oil posed a "clear and present danger to our national security." But how serious is the federal bureaucracy about meeting this threat? Recent studies by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, and by the GSA itself have criticized the federal government's own conservation efforts in such terms as "inadequate," "largely ineffective," and "in disarray." Curbing the ap by only one percent could save the US an esti mated 8,000 barrels of oil a day. Thus every car-driving, home-heating American has a stake in holding the federal government to its conservation pledge.

Between 1973 and 1975, the GSA achieved a 30 percent drop in energy usage by lowering thermostats and taking other "easy" steps to make federal buildings more energy efficient. Further savings will be harder to obtain and will require that older buildings be "retrofitted" -- which means the replacing of existing walls, windows, and heating and cooling devices with more efficient materials and systems. It will also require that energy conservation be a key element in the designs of future facilities. These are the kinds of things the GSA is currently working on, according to Mr. Holton.

Plans call for solar installations to be introduced in a number of federal buildings. Thus far 14 sizeable heating and hot water systems and 115 standardized solar hot water systems are on the drawing boards. Another innovation being discussed would make use of all that government "red tape" and paper work we hear so much about. It would burn waste paper generated by Washington, D.C.'s many government offices to heat federal buildings in the capital.

These are encouraging steps in the right direction. But to ensure that progress is maintained, energy officials will need to place more stress on oversight and coordination, problems uncovered in the recent investigations that should be addressed. If the GSA and the Energy Department meet their conservation obligations, Americans at last may be able to look to Washington for the kind of leadership they need in this crucial area.

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