WASHINGTON — Anticipating soaring energy bills this winter, the Bush administration unveiled a national campaign Monday to highlight how families, businesses and the federal government could save energy and reduce expenses.
Because of the disruption in oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico caused by hurricanes Rita and Katrina, the Energy Information Administration, which collects and analyzes statistics for the Department of Energy, warned that electricity bills could rise 11% and the cost of heating oil, used mostly in the Northeast, could soar 34% this winter.
In response, the Energy Department is joining the Alliance to Save Energy, a consumer group, to encourage greater use of conservation tactics, such as home insulation and programmable thermostats.
"The situation we are facing is a very different one than we faced in the past," Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said at a news conference announcing the conservation campaign. "This is in response to significant damage that has been done to the country's energy infrastructure."
The administration will release public service announcements to 4,500 radio stations, identifying ways to save energy in the home and gasoline in cars.
One focuses on automobile maintenance and offers tips to get the most out of every gallon of gas, such as reducing speeds.
The radio broadcasts will feature the Energy Department's cartoon mascot, the Energy Hog. Much like Smokey Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog, the Energy Hog -- a pig wearing blue jeans and a leather jacket -- is intended to serve as the visual symbol of the campaign. The character will appear in magazine ads and on billboards.
Bodman declined to specify how much energy could be saved by adopting the techniques featured in the campaign, but Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, said the potential was 50%.
"We currently waste about half of the energy we use in this country, so the potential is quite enormous," Callahan said.
To help businesses, the Energy Department will send teams to 200 of the nation's most energy-intensive industrial plants, encouraging them to pursue specific conservation tactics. The department will deploy similar teams to federal facilities with the same message.
"These teams will help federal agencies and departments fulfill the president's directive that they conserve natural gas, electricity, gasoline and diesel fuel to the maximum extent possible, consistent with the effective discharge of the federal government's duties," Bodman said.
The campaign announcement followed President Bush's comments last week urging Americans to avoid unnecessary car travel and promising to enforce the same guidelines for federal workers.
Although the administration is taking steps to prepare the nation for increasing energy costs, the White House still opposes actions that many Democrats and some Republicans find essential, such as higher mileage requirements and stricter energy efficiency standards for appliances and products.
"High fuel costs are costing people their jobs, their pensions and their businesses," said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). Energy conservation "must be more than a convenient slogan."
Bodman said the administration would be ready this winter, if necessary, to consider releasing additional government stocks of crude oil and perhaps, for the first time, tapping into the 2-million-barrel Northeast heating oil reserve that was created in 2000.
The Energy Information Administration expects U.S. energy spending to rise to $1.08 trillion for all of 2005, up 24% from last year. That represents 8.7% of U.S. annual gross domestic product, the biggest share of GDP since 1985.