Views on Energy Conservation and the Federal Government's Role

EMD-81-82: Published: Jun 17, 1981. Publicly Released: Jun 17, 1981.

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The Administration's fiscal year 1982 budget proposals signal a major shift in the Federal Government's role with respect to achieving energy conservation. The proposals would significantly reduce funding for the energy conservation programs carried out by the Department of Energy (DOE). According to the Administration, the basis for its position is that rising energy costs are encouraging major efforts in energy conservation, thereby permitting a substantial curtailment in Federal conservation programs. The key aspects of past GAO work is summarized, and the GAO views on the proposed 1982 budget are presented.

The Administration's actions to substantially curtail conservation programs raise two areas of concern. First, major decisions on the Federal Government's role in fostering energy conservation continue to be made without a clear understanding of energy conservation's contribution in resolving national energy problems in a timely manner. Second, the abrupt changes in certain Federal programs may preclude the timely realization of selected energy conservation opportunities since it is not clear to what extent State, local, and private efforts will fill the void left by a substantially reduced Federal effort. A problem in the overall Federal approach to achieving energy conservation has been the lack of long-term energy conservation goals and a comprehensive plan designed to meet such goals. GAO believes that the failure to develop such a plan continues to perpetuate confusion over how much energy conservation is needed, how well the Nation is doing in conserving energy, and what more needs to be done. The Administration's view on the 1982 budget is based on the premise that market forces will assure that energy conservation will be achieved. The Administration has suggested eliminating some programs and reducing the funding to others. GAO supports the move to continue a low-income weatherization effort, energy conservation assistance to schools and hospitals, and energy conservation tax credits. GAO does not support the elimination of the Residential Conservation Service and the Energy Extension Service, nor the reduction in funding for the Federal Energy Management Program.

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