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Turn off lights when you leave ... and arrive

To avert a natural-gas crisis, White House launches a push for voluntary cutbacks.

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Ten years ago, during the first Gulf War, the first Bush administration asked the American public to make sure car tires were inflated properly and engines tuned up as a way to help cut down on expensive imported oil.

Now, a second Bush administration - faced with the prospect of natural gas shortfalls this winter - is asking the public to pull down the window shades, switch to compact fluorescent lights that are more efficient, and use low flow showerheads to cut down on that flow of hot water. The aim: to save enough energy through the heat of the summer that natural gas storage levels increase enough to make policymakers stop sweating themselves.

Voluntary conservation is one of the few short-term measures the administration can suggest to help the nation catch up with its natural gas storage. Production can't be ramped up quickly. Imports are rising but can't fill the gap. So, Wednesday, in Washington and in a Home Depot in New York, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham kicked off what the administration is calling the Smart Energy Campaign.

"If we use too much natural gas during the summer, the market could tighten and result in unacceptably high prices next winter," says Mr. Abraham.

The issue is critical enough to catch the attention of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who last month suggested it could negatively affect economic growth. Thursday, Mr. Greenspan will testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the same issue. In the past he said one of the solutions to high natural-gas prices was to try to reduce consumption.

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