WASHINGTON -- President Clinton told federal agencies Thursday to do a better job of conserving energy, citing global warming so alarming that it is melting sea ices and killing off entire species in Costa Rica's forests.
The federal government uses more energy than anyone else in the nation, expending $8 billion worth each year -- roughly half of which goes into lights, heat and air conditioning for its buildings.
Clinton issued an executive order that directs federal agencies to cut their energy consumption by 35 percent, compared with 1985 levels, between now and 2010. The government has reduced consumption 17 percent since 1985.
"As the single largest consumer of energy in our country, the federal government should be leading the way," Clinton told reporters during an appearance in the White House Rose Garden.
The White House estimated that Clinton's order would save taxpayers about $750 million a year, and reduce greenhouse gases by 2.4 million metric tons -- the equivalent of taking 1.7 million cars off the road.
Clinton also announced that by the end of the month, the Defense Department will award the largest energy-saving contract in government history. He said under the contract, the government pays no up-front costs, the contractor wins a share of the energy savings and taxpayers will save over $200 million.
For its part, the White House has made changes that saved about $180,000 in energy costs annually, said Todd Stern, Clinton's coordinator on climate change -- even though it not stopped using energy-eating incandescent light bulbs.
"The White House has made significant improvements," Stern said. "We will be making further improvements."
Clinton called global warming "our most fateful environmental challenge," saying each month seems to bring disturbing new evidence of the damage greenhouse gases are doing to the planet. He cited scientists' findings that 1998 was likely the warmest year in a millennium, and said the permafrost in the Arctic is beginning to warm and sea ice is shrinking.
"Whole species of frogs are disappearing from forests in Costa Rica because the air there is getting hotter and dryer," Clinton said. "These are alarming signs for what it means to biodiversity and the potential of a rising water level around the globe.
"Yet some still insist that the vast majority of scientists are simply wrong and that we should do nothing. Others call for a raft of new regulations and new taxes. I believe there is a third way here."
Clinton urged Congress to approve research allocations in his fiscal 2000 budget plan to help American businesses take advantage of current and developing energy-saving technology.
Clinton instructed federal agencies to give annual conservation updates to the Office of Management and Budget, and take steps such as:
--Using private energy conservation contractors more often.
--Installing more efficient lighting systems, boilers and cooling systems.
--Improving building insulation.
--Making wider use of renewable energy technologies.
Clinton's directive does not apply to energy uses for transportation, or many military or other activities tied to national security.