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Cutting federal power use


TURN UP the thermostats, turn off the escalators, turn down the lights.

That's President Bush's summer energy savings plan for federal buildings nationwide, a return to the 1970s-style conservation so recently derided by his vice president.

The range of measures announced for about 500,000 federal buildings, including military installations, makes sense. It won't make a major dent in energy consumption, but it sets an example and creates a policy of conservation that can help in times of peak power usage.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham flies to California to emphasize the president's concern about the power crisis and emergencies expected there over the long hot summer. Mr. Bush will not bow to that state's demand for power price controls but the conservation policy gesture sends a signal that the federal government is involved.

The president's announcement came even as he and Vice President Cheney continue to stress more fossil-fuel production as a solution to power shortages. Mr. Cheney, who heads the president's energy task force, predicted that the nation will need 1,900 new power plants to meet projected demand. He is also pressing expansion of nuclear energy production. America "simply can't conserve or ration our way out" of the shortfall, he said.

Yet conservation and greater efficiencies are central to any rational long-term energy policy. That's what the president's directive implies. It would better serve the national interest if the two oilmen in the White House would recognize that truth instead of simply looking for another place to drill.

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