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A new opinion poll showing yet again that Americans want sustainable energy programmes has prompted US Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary to accuse Congress of ignoring voters' preferences. A majority of US voters want more energy efficiency or renewables even while the US Congress is slashing such programmes, says a new survey commissioned by the Sustainable Energy Budget Coalition, which promotes renewable fuels over fossil fuels and nuclear power.

The poll, conducted in early December, shows that most voters support renewables funding, followed by fairly strong support for programmes for energy efficiency. Gas has only lukewarm support, while most of those questioned want programme funding slashed for nuclear and fossil fuels. The poll results, released in mid January on the fifth anniversary of the Persian Gulf War, also indicate widespread concern about global warming.

After release of the results, O'Leary blasted Congress for cutting budgets for renewables and efficiency. "The majority of the CongressÉis totally out of sync with the voting public," she said. "On matters of energy efficiency and renewables, they seemingly don't get it." Specifically, the poll suggests that more than one-third, or 34%, believe that research on renewable fuels such as wind, solar, and biomass, should be the country's top priority. Support is stronger among those under age 60, men, whites, Protestants and those in the Midwest or West. Another 21%, or more than one-fifth, say the R&D priority should be energy conservation and efficiency. Only 9% say the priority should be natural gas, 8.6% fossil fuels such as oil and coal, and 8.5% nuclear power. The survey also suggests most voters want tax incentives for private industry to develop and promote sustainable energy. Renewables are again the top priority, with 32%, while 17% backed tax incentives for efficiency.

Asked which DOE programmes should be cut first, 30.5% of those questioned say nuclear power, and 20.3% fossil fuels.

The results also indicate that 35.5% view global warming as a very serious threat, and 35.4% believe it is somewhat serious. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed say the US should cut its dependence on foreign oil, but most oppose opening a wildlife area of northern Alaska, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil development. The poll says 44.8% strongly oppose the oil development, while 17.4% "somewhat" oppose that measure, which is part of Congress' budget plan.

O'Leary says the White House will continue to try and drum up support for sustainable energy and that she expects energy issues to be a factor in the 1996 elections. O'Leary also says Congress is hampering the White House's efforts to prepare for a crisis prompted by increased oil consumption and fairly flat world oil prices through 2010. "That puts more pressure on consumption and I see a crisis imminent and something we better take heed of," O'Leary warns, echoing comments made by another senior official at the US Department of Energy (DOE). Joseph Romm, principal deputy assistant secretary on energy efficiency and renewable energy, says the DOE views the prospect of an oil crisis within the next ten years as a "plausible scenario."

"The trajectory Congress has us going onÉwe're not allowed to intervene with new technology to reduce energy consumption and therefore reduce pollution and improve the health of individuals," blasts O'Leary. The US Congress, over its seven year budget plan, intends to slash funds for energy efficiency, conservation and renewables including wind, solar and geothermal. Without such programmes, O'Leary says, "We will continue to experience the kind of profligate behaviour I think we're beginning to see now."

O'Leary says the administration is not considering measures to force conservation -- such as a higher petrol tax or a tax on oil imports. She adds the White House, however, would "simply try to impress on the public the need for adequate funding" for renewables and efficiency programmes.

David Nemtzow, of the Alliance to Save Energy, says the fiscal 1996 bill for renewable energy programmes slashes funding by 29% below fiscal 1995. Meanwhile nuclear and fossil fuel programmes are cut by only some 15%. "These cuts run directly counter to the expressed preferences of American voters, Republicans, Democrats and independents alike," he comments.

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