Favors slashing DOE funding “if they continue to fail” in effort to reduce foreign oil dependence — failing to mention conservative’s mutli-decade effort to promote such dependence
Our guest blogger is CAP’s Tom Kenworthy.
You would think that after the hottest decade on record, with other nations eating our lunch on development of renewable energy, and with Colorado a new energy economy leader, that a serious candidate for statewide office there would not be an advocate for crippling the Department of Energy.
But you would be wrong. Ken Buck, Tea Party favorite and GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado, has his eyes set on the DOE’s budget if he wins his tight race against incumbent Michael Bennet.
Buck has said repeatedly that the department founded in 1977 has failed in its mission of reducing the U.S. dependence on foreign oil and suggests that he favors slashing the agency’s budget “if they continue to fail.”
Here’s Buck in an interview with the Colorado Statesman during his primary campaign:
[T]he Department of Energy was formed in 1977 with the express purpose of reducing our dependence on foreign oil, foreign energy. We are now more dependent on foreign energy than we were before. If they continue to fail, we’ve got to look at whether our funding in that department is appropriate or not.
I think the Department of Energy could serve a valuable function in terms of helping develop energy sources and energy technology in this country. But if we keep becoming more and more dependent on foreign sources of energy when we have a stated purpose of becoming less, they’re clearly not accomplishing their mission.
For starters, Buck is going after a department that plays a key economic and employment role in Colorado.
According to the Census Bureau’s Consolidated Federal Funds Report for fiscal 2009, DOE pays its thousands of Colorado-based employees $64 million a year in salary and wages, the department spends $1.2 billion on procurement in Colorado, and gave grants in Colorado that year worth $202 million. In the past couple of years, Colorado has been a major recipient of clean energy funding from DOE and through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, including $768 million in clean energy projects via the stimulus program, $204 million of that from DOE.
Colorado is home to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the nation’s premier lab for new energy research and deployment that employs 1,800 workers. NREL has contributed in many ways to making the state a clean energy leader with a 30 percent renewable energy standard and a thriving renewable energy economic sector employing thousands of people.
Buck’s approach to renewable energy takes a page from the Bush administration, which paid lip service, but repeatedly tried to slash NREL’s budget.
In an interview last May, Buck said: “I think renewables are a part of our energy future, but they have to stand alone. They cannot be subsidized in the way that they are subsidized now”¦.We’ve got to drill for oil and gas more. We’ve got to develop nuclear energy.” Apparently billions upon billions of dollars in subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear are fine, but renewables have to stand on their own.
And finally, Buck’s rationale for punishing DOE – that it hasn’t met its founding purpose of reducing our foreign oil dependence – is all wet. You would think a Princeton graduate would have more respect for historical accuracy.
According to DOE’s official history, the department was founded to accomplish President Jimmy Carter’s energy plan, and that the president, by the time the department legislation was sent to Congress, had abandoned any “hope of achieving energy independence.”
“The plan,” according to the DOE’s history, “placed heavy emphasis on reducing energy consumption, implementing conservation, and developing alternative energy technologies.”
— Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow for CAP’s Energy Opportunity Team.
JR: I would add that it is absurd for a right-winger to attack the DOE for failing to achieve its mission. Conservatives have worked to hobble the DOE from the very beginning. Reagan cut the renewable energy R&D budget 85% after he took office and eliminated the tax credit for solar homes and the wind investment tax credit (see “Who got us in this energy mess? Start with Ronald Reagan“). Thanks to conservative opposition to clean energy from Reagan to the Gingrich Congress to Cheney/Bush, the U.S. share of the PV market has plummeted. By 2008, America had under 6% (!) of the world market (see AllBusiness’s “United States is a bit player in global solar industry“). And the primary strategy for reducing oil consumption — fuel economy standards — is not part of the DOE’s charter and is yet another major energy independence policy that conservatives stymied for over two decades. Finally, right wingers blocked the comprehensive climate and clean energy jobs legislation that would have made America more energy independent, cutting U.S. foreign oil bill $650 billion through 2030, saving $5,600 per household.
Bottom line: It is conservatives like Buck who are responsible for the failure of the US to reduce its dependence on oil. Buck’s rigid ideology — “I am opposed to government pushing forms of energy” — guarantees that the United States will never reclaim leadership in perhaps the biggest job creating sector of the century as other countries see government policy as a key enabler of private sector dominance (see “Green Giant: Beijing’s crash program for clean energy”).