“We are more dependent on imported energy. We are no cleaner in energy substantially than we were a generation ago because clean is not a percentage, clean is an absolute term. Our geography has more coal being burned than it did a generation ago. It has more natural gas being burned than it did a generation ago. So even though we’ve increased a few renewables, the absolute consumption of carbon fuel is up not down and more of it is imported.”
That’s Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), from an E&E Daily interview (subs. req’d), in one of the most disingenuous statements ever uttered by a politician on energy. The story’s headline, “Issa calls DOE a ‘failed agency’,” utterly misses the point.
Issa, the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, isn’t condemning the DOE. Issa is condemning his fellow Republicans, who have for three decades strongly opposed policies that would address each and every one of those problems — most of which are actually the primary responsibility of agencies other than DOE.
First, on the energy side, the DOE is mostly a technology development agency. Yes, Jimmy Carter had vastly increased spending on technology development and deployment, but President Reagan eliminated the deployment tax credits for wind and solar and gutted overall spending 70% to 90% (see “Who got us in this energy mess? Start with Ronald Reagan“).
I spent 5 years at the DOE in the 1990s. We started to increase funding for technology deployment, but the Gingrich Congress stopped and reversed that trend. They tried to shut down the entire department and kill all clean energy R&D, but we were able to beat that back and protect the R&D.
The Bush Administration talked a great game about technology investments and how the solution to all of our problems was technology breakthroughs, but it was all just talk (see Bush climate speech follows Luntz playbook: “Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah”). In fact, Bush waged a stealth war against all technology deployment programs in clean energy, gutting many of the best ones. The only program be significantly increased was the wildly overhyped hydrogen fuel cell program, which are a dead end from a technological, practical, and climate perspective.
Bush had many willing accomplices in his own party. Even “moderate” conservatives like John McCain and Judd Gregg opposed the kind of funding and incentives that countries like Japan and Germany embraced.
Obama goosed some deployment programs with the stimulus, but only Congress can change the long-term funding profile for the Department.
Fundamentally, like most people, Issa doesn’t really know what DOE does, even on the energy side, which is only a small part of the mission of a department that runs the nuclear weapons labs and the nation’s major physics labs and the cleanup of the nuclear weapons facilities.
The vast majority of imported energy is, of course, oil. The primary strategy for addressing oil is in the transportation sector, through stronger automobile fuel efficiency standards, which are not under DOE’s control and which, needless to say, Republicans have opposed for three decades. Another key strategy is alternative fuels including electric vehicles, which, in general, Republicans have opposed. Finally, a third strategy is increased funding for public transit and trains, which, again, aren’t under DOE’s control and which Republicans have steadfastly opposed.
DOE is not the primary agency responsible for making energy cleaner in absolute terms. That would be the EPA, whose efforts in this area Issa and the Republicans want to stop entirely!
It is laughable for Issa to whine that renewables have only increased a little bit while the absolute consumption of carbon fuel is up — when Republicans have steadfastly opposed any renewable energy standard and just killed a bill that would have placed a shrinking cap on carbon emissions!
Issa said there are several questions that need to be answered about the performance of DOE. “Can you [DOE] meet the most essential mandate — the sufficiency safety, and cleanliness as part of their mandate of energy? You could but you’re not,” he said.
Seriously! And this guy is in charge of House Oversight and Government Reform.
I hope that Issa doesn’t actually believe the nonsense he is saying, but it would have been good if the reporter had pushed him on it to find out.