Energy Extravaganza

A case-study in cancerous bureaucracy.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Sept. 15 proudly released a tale of an unemployed auto-industry engineer in Detroit, Leon Brown, who started a small all-minority employee weatherizing business. The firm is financed by a $5 million grant from the infamous stimulus package. His employees come from “non-traditional energy backgrounds,” but have “the ability to be cross trained quickly,” the story promises. “It’s not held against our applicants that they won’t know anything about weatherization,” says Brown. It’s all part of the government’s subsidized job creation drive, especially in “green” work. The DOE is calling for a 43 percent increase from the prior year, to $300 million, in weatherization assistance grants.

But this tidbit of economic news is only one tiny portion of the vast variety of areas in which the U.S. Department of Energy now has its fingers. And many are far from the purpose for which the department was established. It’s a case of a federal department infatuated to be politically correct “green” with too much on its plate.

The Department of Energy had always been proud in tracing it origins to the historic Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb during World War II. While the department still does have under its wing the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, which regulates the nuclear power industry, the department had a much different priority assignment when it was given life by Jimmy Carter in 1977.

On April 18, 1977, President Jimmy Carter addressed the American people urging the “need to act change to strict conservation” before demand for petroleum could overtake production. Government policies “must be predictable and certain....This is one reason I am working with the Congress to create a new Department of Energy, to replace 50 different  agencies that now have some control over energy.” Today the department has many more than 50 different agencies or activities, ranging from education of young potential scientists to the human Genome project. But the activity surge is to make the economy green.

The breadth of the departmental functions is seen in the description of the department’s budget for fiscal 2011.The budget’s dollars are to prod development of a clean energy economy and improve energy efficiency, the Environmental Leader reported Feb. 2. Although the department was instituted to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, 34 percent of our oil then was from foreign imports. Now, in 2010—33 years later, 51.5 percent of our oil is from foreign imports.

It’s a long way from Jimmy Carter’s call for conservation and energy restraint because of shrinking oil supplies to the Genome Project, for example. Completed in 2003, the Human Genome Project took 13 years to identify the 20,000 to 25,000 genes in human DNA. The National Institutes of Health, with an assist from the DOE, did the research.  DOE’s Office of Science will continue to address genomics as well as “issues ancillary to energy, such as climate change and life sciences,” for which it asked $5.1 billion. The Office of Science “supports investments in areas of research critical to our clean energy future and making the U.S. a leader on climate change.”

In the fiscal 2011 budget proposal, the Energy department said it would “develop new ways to produce and use energy and pursue game-changing breakthroughs, invest in innovative technologies, and deploy commercially valuable solutions.” In addition to innovation and energy advances, national security will continue to be part of DOE’s efforts...”at home and around the world to reduce the global threat posed by nuclear weapons[.]”

The new budget “builds on the $36.7 billion in Recovery Act (stimulus) funding.” By the end of 2010, the budget statement said, that “the Department expects to obligate 100 percent and outlay roughly 35-40 percent of Recovery Act funds.” It listed Recovery Act money amounting to $16.8 in energy conservation and renewable energy sources, $6 billion in environmental management, $4 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy and electric power transmission projects, $4.5 billion for grid modernization, $3.4 billion for “carbon capture and sequestration,” $1.6 billion for basic science research, and $0.4 billion for the Advanced Research Projects Agency. Supposedly this, among other things, will cut “dependence on foreign oil.” Maybe by a sliver.

Taking on an educational role, the Department also is proposing spending $55 million to support science and engineering education k-20, even though the U.S. Department of Education already spends $1 billion in science education. Some $400 million more in seemingly inexhaustible stimulus money will be added to $300 million for “breakthrough projects in high-risk research and development.”  It is doubtful this would affect new job creation, considering the advanced nature and expertise demanded of the work.

Taxpayers could be saved $2 billion if the DOE would abandon its “FreedomCAR program.” It provides funding for research on fuel cell technology through a partnership between the federal government and private industry to put “greener” cars on the roadways. The private sector, however, is already doing this type of research. And let’s not forget Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s eagerness to have the homes and businesses around the world paint their roofs white to reflect the sun and save CO2-producing energy that he believes may cause climate change.

In September, President Obama sent to Congress the DOE’s budget, which included funds from the stimulus act to make a total of $31.2 billion, a 30 percent increase over 2009. The President, in yet another slap in the face of the fossil fuels industries, eliminated from the DOE $2.7 billion in tax subsidies for the coal, gas and oil industries.

World energy use is projected to grow by 49 percent between 2007 and 2035, according to the Energy Information Administration. “Renewables (rising from 10 percent to only 14 percent  by 2035) are the fastest growing source of world energy supply, but fossil fuels are still set to meet more than three-fourths of  total energy needs in 2035 assuming current policies are unchanged....Petroleum and other liquid fuels remain the largest energy source worldwide through 2035.”

So, The DOE budget “supports the President’s commitment to the challenges of rebuilding the economy, maintaining nuclear deterrence, securing nuclear materials, improving energy efficiency, incentivizing production of renewable energy, and curbing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.” But as for renewable energy sources, Energy Secretary Chu has to be saddened to know his Energy Information Administration calculates the energy from renewables will be only 12.4 percent of all energy by 2035, even less than in 2007.