Picture this: A team of rightous undercover energy agents moves in on an office building, fans out into the many offices of the structure, and stations an agent beside each thermostat.
At a signal, the agents whip out thermometers and wait several minutes for the mercury to climb up the scale.
It hits 55, then 65, then 67, and finally 70 degrees. At that point, the agents flash their badges and the building owner is hauled off to jail on the charge of being an energy enemy.
It will never happen.
The federal government is near the end of a program establishing mandatory temperature levels for most public buildings and it has yet to impose its first $10,000 fine on a violator.
In fact, it does have any undercover energy agents, and has apparently decided that energy conservation has it built-in reward. Strict enforement of regulations is not necessary.
The program began last July and will end on April 16. At that point, President Carter will have the option of extending it, based on an examination of its effectiveness over a nine month period.
Michael Klimas, 30, a five-year federal veteran who works out of an office in Chicago is in charge of the program for a 10-state midwestern region.
The law is clear. Thermostat settings should be no more than 65 degrees in most buildings during the daytime in the winter, and no less than 78 degrees during the summer air conditioning season.
There are exceptions to the law, Residential buildings, hotel guest rooms, hospitals and other health care facilities, elementary schools, and day care centers are not covered.
For buildings that are covered by the Emergency Building Temperature Restrictions, the regulations are mandatory, according to Klimas. The law provides for fines of up to $10,000 a day for each day a building is not in compliance.
But Klimas said the federal Department of Energy program has been putting more emphasis on cooperation than on prosecution.
"Our goal was to convince building owners and managers that it is in their best interested to conserve energy," he said. "It is cheaper for them to do That. I like this kind of approach, because cooperation, using the marketplace, is better than ending up in court."
Klimas said he believes it is working.
Although he has only one person working full-time on inspection in the Chicago area, he believes that up to 85 percent of the area's building owners are trying to comply with the regulations. Those who are not, he said, are probably unaware of the program.
He agreed that there are built-in problems in trying to implement the regulations.
One of the most difficult is that buildings -- particularly older buildings -- were not constructed with precise heat and air conditioning controls in mind.
His own is an example, it was about 70 degrees in his office, theoretically five degrees warmer than it should have been.
It is not the building managers' fault, he explained. The day started out at 65 degrees. Heat from lights, body temperatures and other sources drove the temperature up.
"The program is flexible," he said. "Buildings aren't controlled that precisely. The program allows for that and for other factors too. In the summer, some areas must be kept cool -- computer rooms and the like."
One of the problems with enforcement has been that the federal government originally planned for the states to help in inspection, but few states have offered to step in.
Klimas said his office has managed to complete 30 spot inspections in the Chicago area since and mid-January, when, the inspection program was finally geared up and put in place.
"Our approach has been that when we find a violation, we notify the building owner and then go back a second time," he said. In most cases, the managers are open to suggestions on how to keep temperatures lower.