WASHINGTON - Federal workers in power-strapped California could be taking the stairs and sweating out the summer under an energy conservation directive signed by President Bush Thursday.
His order came after criticism of his previous budget cuts in energy efficiency programs.
"We'll work to help California in any way we can. And the best way we can is to be good citizens," Bush said after a Cabinet Room meeting with his top energy-policy advisers.
He ordered federal facilities in California to cut power use "to the maximum extent consistent with the effective discharge of public responsibilities." For military facilities, which use 1 percent of the state's energy load, that means cutting peak-hour usage by one-tenth, said deputy Defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
The president, who has been criticized as doing too little to address California's energy crisis, dispatched Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to meet with California Gov. Gray Davis Thursday night in Sacramento and, on Friday, to visit an energy-efficient federal building in San Francisco.
Even before Abraham left Washington, Davis, a Democrat, sniffed at Bush's directive. "Surely the federal government can do more and match California's 20 percent savings at all state buildings," he said.
Raising thermostats to 78 degrees, closing "nonessential space," turning off excess lighting and switching off escalators during so-called "stage 2 alerts" are among the Energy Department's recommended conservation measures. In California, a stage 2 alert is called when electricity reserves drop or are expected to drop below 5 percent.
The White House, too, will do its part, Bush said:
"We're focused right now on California because that's a state that's going to suffer blackouts. But we always have to be mindful of being energy efficient. And since I've asked other agencies to review their policy, I'm going to ask the White House to do the same."