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Bush energy plan whacks conservation

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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 request.

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 $2.8 million cut.

Dr. Muller's Industrial Assessment Centers program annually conducts about 600 energy audits and trains a new crop of about 250 new energy-efficiency engineers. The $7 million program, which is estimated to save enough power to supply half a million homes each year, wins plaudits from the small businesses that have been able to reduce their costs.

But budget cuts slated for 2007 would trim the program by a third, slashing the number of its university-based auditing and training programs from 23 to 16. Savings: about $2.4 million.

"I hope the ITP cuts do get restored," says Larry Kavanagh, vice president of manufacturing and technology for the American Iron and Steel Institute, a Washington trade association. "It saved the auto industry a lot of weight in its cars - and the country a lot of energy."

These programs are minuscule compared with the big-ticket research programs envisioned by the White House. Mr. Bush's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative, for example, would cost $1.2 billion over five years.

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