WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama made a strong pitch Thursday for the energy portion of his economic stimulus plan, saying it would "begin to end the tyranny of oil in our time" and create a clean energy industry with many new jobs.
The president spoke to employees at the Department of Energy, where he announced that he signed a memorandum asking the agency to speed up work on new efficiency standards for household appliances, furnaces, air conditioners, lighting, commercial equipment and other products. The standards set the minimum energy efficiency level on products that can be sold in the United States.
"This will save consumers money, this will spur innovation, and this will conserve tremendous amounts of energy," Obama said.
Enough energy saved over 30 years, in fact, the president said, to equal two years' worth of production from all the nation's hundreds of coal-fired power plants.
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The Department of Energy is required by law to set minimum energy efficiency standards for residential and commercial products, but over the past decades has missed so many deadlines that many new standards are far overdue. One of the first deadlines, in June, is for fluorescent tube lighting and incandescent reflector lamps, which are used for recessed ceiling lights in homes.
The president's memorandum called on the energy department meet all its upcoming deadlines and to speed up work on those that provide the most energy savings.
Obama also used his speech to department staff as a chance to urge Congress to pass his stimulus package. The nation lost 2.6 million jobs last year plus half a million jobs each month for the past two months. Another dismal report is due tomorrow.
Congress already has had a month to scrutinize the legislation and now "the time for talk is over," Obama said. The House of Representatives passed a version of the bill, and the Senate is debating it this week.
In recapping his proposal to put federal dollars into the economy, the president emphasized the parts of it that would boost clean energy. He said the stimulus plan would create "hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next few years, manufacturing wind turbines and solar cells for example — millions more after that."
The plan also calls for improving energy efficiency in 75 percent of federal buildings and 2 million American homes. Obama said it would not only create jobs but also cut the federal energy bill by a third and save Americans money on their utility bills.
Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joe Biden's economic policy adviser, told a national conference of labor and environmental activists in Washington on Thursday that the average savings on a weatherized house would be $350 per year. He said an economic plan based on building a clean energy system creates demand for new products, which both creates employment and fights climate change.
The production of energy that is then wasted from leaky buildings is one of the biggest contributors to global warming.
Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, said in a statement that higher efficiency standards for fluorescent lighting alone would save consumers and businesses between $11 billion and $26 billion over 30 years.
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