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US sees renaissance in energy efficiency, led by Congress and big business

For decades, the US has been transforming into a more energy efficient society. But fresh impetus has come in the wake of a 2007 law embracing tougher appliance and auto standards. 

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A forklift driver zooms through a dark warehouse late at night. There are no lights on his machine pointing the way, yet intelligent light bulbs lining the ceiling flash on as they recognize the direction he's heading, then flash off as he passes on his way.

The scene is not science fiction to make FedEx giddy; it is one of the actual faces of energy efficiency in the United States today.

Whether it's intelligent lighting in warehouses nationwide, building codes in Massachusetts, or new federal gas-mileage standards, energy efficiency is enjoying a renaissance. Since conservation first entered the American consciousness in the 1970s – prompted by the energy crisis and the dawn of environmentalism – the nation has become dramatically more energy-efficient. But recent years have, by some measures, represented a high-water mark.

The passage of the federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which strengthened appliance and auto fuel-efficiency standards, was the biggest energy-efficiency measure "the country has ever adopted," says Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy in Washington. Since then, the Obama administration has used tax incentives to encourage energy efficiency in homes and businesses. Even businesses themselves, seeing long-term savings, have begun to take the lead without Washington's prompting.

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