Those hazy, lazy -- wasteful? -- days of summer

Is your air conditioner working at full tilt because of a local heat wave? Have you driven the car out on a vacation yet? Many Americans have already flipped on the air conditioners or taken the car out on the vacation circuit now that summer is officially here. Millions more will do so in the weeks ahead. The coincidence of hot sunlit days - and summer fun - hardly seems like the occasion for yet another reminder about energy supplies and America's continuing reliance on imported oil. But, as US energy officials are forever noting, it would be most unwise for Americans to let down their guard on energy conservation even for a moment.

Certainly there is nothing wrong with spinning the car out for a holiday. But still, the stepped-up driving patterns of summer prompt a sense of caution lest Americans slide back into wasteful energy habits.

Of course, there are practical reasons besides conservation for watching the gas gauge this summer. The latest 0.5 percent hike in the government's consumer price index for May, it might be noted, came largely from a jump in the price of gasoline and natural gas. Among contributing factors is the five-cent-a-gallon increase in the federal tax on gasoline. At the same time, the continuing deregulation of natural gas has tended to shove up natural gas prices.

Rising fuel prices by themselves will not be enough to hold down unnecessary energy usage without the full commitment of the American public to vigorous conservation practices.

Because of the recession, total energy consumption in the US dropped for the third year in a row in 1982. Oil imports as a share of total energy consumption were at their lowest level in over ten years. And, as far as petroleum products go, consumption fell off some 5 percent last year.

Will energy consumption continue to fall off, now that the recovery is under way? Many economists believe that just the opposite may occur - that there will actually be a jump in oil imports during the next year or so as industrial facilities and utilities switch from natural gas to oil, and as firms step up the extent and pace of production.

So the bottom line seems to be:

Don't forget the need to conserve vital energy resources, even in the days of summer sun.

Now, anybody for the beach?

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