| February 22, 2012

How is that working out for you?

The U.S. Department of Energy was created by consolidating a handful of federal agencies under the Department of Energy Organization Act of 1977. Section 101 of the Act states the findings upon which Congressional action was being taken. Among other things, Congress cited “an increasing shortage of nonrenewable energy resources” and stated that “our increasing dependence on foreign energy supplies present a serious threat to the national security of the United States and to the health, safety and welfare of its citizens.” The findings further state that a “comprehensive, centralized focus” was “necessary for effective coordination of energy supply and conservation programs.”

How is that working out for you? Nearly 40 years later, our dependence on foreign energy sources has continued to increase, the threat from foreign regimes continues to increase, and we are no closer to an effective coordination of anything related to energy.

In addition to the findings, Congress went on in Section 102 of the Act to state the purposes for the department it was creating. The purpose was to achieve “effective management of energy functions of the Federal Government” and “to provide for a mechanism through which a coordinated national energy policy can be formulated and implemented to deal with the short-, mid- and long-term energy problems of the Nation; and to develop plans and programs for dealing with domestic energy production and import shortages.” In addition to “restoring, protecting, and enhancing environmental quality, and assuring public health and safety,” the agency was created to ensure a “reliable supply of energy at the lowest reasonable cost” and to “foster and assure competition among parties engaged in the supply of energy and fuels.”

How is that working out for you? Hundreds of billions of dollars later, the federal government refuses to discuss developing vast resources in Alaska, and the administration refuses to allow the Keystone pipeline to move forward. The Keystone project alone would create thousands of jobs, strengthen ties with a likeminded neighbor, increase production capabilities, and three environmental impact studies concluded there would be minimal environmental impact if operated according to regulations.

What would also be laughable if it weren’t such a serious problem is that the 1977 legislation pointed to the research and development of renewable energy resources as a primary purpose. The New York Times reported in November that “The department has an annual budget of about $24 billion, not counting the one-time stimulus grants, and oversees more than 115,000 workers, including federal employees and contract personnel.” President Obama said in his State of the Union address that the clean energy industry has never “been more promising,” yet all the years and all the employees and all the tax dollars have still been unable to produce meaningful results.

In fact, the only consistent piece of energy policy the United States has been able to maintain is that the federal government will insert itself whenever it can. That is particularly interesting when one considers the very next section of the Energy Department legislation. Section 103 defines the department’s intended relationship with the states: “Whenever any proposed action by the Department conflicts with the energy plan of any State, the Department shall give due consideration to the needs of such State, and where practicable, shall attempt to resolve such conflict through consultations with appropriate State officials. Nothing in this Act shall affect the authority of any State over matters exclusively within its jurisdiction” (emphasis added).

How is that working out for you? Not too well when the federal government decides to put the free market in a choke hold and tell the states what their jurisdiction is going to be.

In his November 2011 report, the Energy Department’s own Inspector General said, “While the Department's origins can be traced to the Manhattan Project and the 1973-1974 oil embargo, it has evolved into a multi-faceted agency that encompasses a broad range of national security, scientific, energy and environmental activities with an annual budget in excess of $24 billion. Additionally, with the enactment of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009, the Department received more than $35 billion in supplemental funding and massive new loan and loan guarantee authority for the acceleration of a number of efforts, including investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, transportation, carbon capture and storage, and a "smart" electric grid.” His report points out his concerns about the department being able to manage those resources effectively. That concern raises an excellent question about whether the American people are getting their money’s worth.

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