They could, but I would guess the VM is not very smart either -- it does whatever userspace tells it to do. Solving the problem in the not-quite-Java VM would add complexity in a layer which (at least theoretically) is not involved in power management, just in secure execution.
Besides, there will be other native applications running on the G1, which (even if they under direct control of Goog... ahem, Android) must be written with power management in mind. It seems easier to just push power management to the kernel and let it do its thing.
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