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EPA Begins Energy Conservation Campaign

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In the wake of rising energy prices, President Bush suggested last week that Americans try to conserve fuel. The move surprised many environmentalists who have criticized the administration for focusing far too little on conserving energy. Stephen Johnson is the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Today, the EPA is kicking off a campaign to get every American home to change one lightbulb from a traditional bulb to a more energy efficient compact florescent. He came into our studio to explain.

Mr. STEPHEN JOHNSON (Administrator, EPA): The average homeowner spends more than $1,500 every year on energy costs. Lighting, just lighting, accounts for 20 percent of those costs. And what we know is these Energy Star bulbs use two-thirds less energy and they last six times longer. Well, if every household changed just one light, as a country, we will save $600 million in energy bills.

MONTAGNE: So given that, if one only has to change a lightbulb that presumably you wouldn't even notice you're doing, what wouldn't the administration then and the EPA promote a bit more sacrifice?

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, I think again there's one size doesn't fit all and that today's focus is our Energy Star program and Changing A Light Day. Last year, by people buying Energy Star products, we were able to save enough energy to power 20 million homes. And so these are significant steps.

MONTAGNE: There are bills in Congress to give the EPA the ability to exempt from environmental rules following Hurricane Katrina. Is that necessary in your opinion, and if so, how limited will it be?

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, we're currently evaluating what our needs are from a legislative standpoint. I mean, there are certain requirements that are currently on the books for opening up wastewater treatment systems, regulations that require that a certain amount of monitoring and a certain amount of evaluation be done before wastewater treatment systems are allowed to operate. And we've got communities that are needing to and they need to flush the system. So, you know, are we going to wait for, you know, months or a year for the EPA to do an evaluation? I think not. We need to look at to see what are the reasonable and prudent steps that we can take to bring these systems back up to operation?

MONTAGNE: Critics have said that the administration or the EPA is using Katrina to make the rules less stringent.

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, I would beg to differ. Again, what we are doing--and I think that it's appropriate public policy for us to look at given the enormity of the situation to look at: Are there things that we need to do for cleanup and for restoration that just don't make good common sense? This isn't a lessening of environmental standards across the board. We're early in our evaluation looking at what are those needs and then working with the Congress to address it appropriately.

MONTAGNE: Stephen Johnson is the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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