Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
Over at the Washington Post, Chris Mooney and the usual suspects are seriously alarmed by a memo sent out by the Transition Team at the Department of Energy. They describe it in breathless terms in an article entitled “Trump transition team for Energy Department seeks names of employees involved in climate meetings“. The finest part was this quote from Michael Halpern:
Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy, called the memo’s demand that Energy officials identify specific employees “alarming.”
“If the Trump administration is already singling out scientists for doing their jobs, the scientific community is right to be worried about what his administration will do in office. What’s next? Trump administration officials holding up lists of ‘known climatologists’ and urging the public to go after them?” Halpern asked.
Oh … you mean like say the Attorneys General of a bunch of states holding up their lists of known “denier” organizations and tacitly urging the public to go after them? You mean like government officials of a variety of stripes ranting about how “deniers” should be brought to trial or otherwise penalized? You mean like having sites like DeSmogBlog making ugly insinuations and false statements about every known opponent of the climate party line? You mean like Roger Pielke being hounded out of his job by the climate mob?
Mr. Halpern, we have put up with just that treatment you describe for years now. Let me suggest that you take your inchoate fears and do something useful with them—you can think fearfully about how you have treated your scientific opponents for the last decade, and you can hope and pray that they are like me, and they don’t demand the exact same pound of flesh from you.
In any case, the Post put up a copy of the memo in the most idiotic form ever—ten separate individual pages, in image form without searchable text, printed sideways. Thanks, guys, it’s clear you’ve only posted them because you have to.
To save your neck from getting a crick from holding your head sideways, I’ve snagged them off the web and OCR’d them so we could all have a look.
Now, bear in mind that the Department of Energy has been the conduit for the billions of dollars wasted on propping up failing solar companies like Solyndra, it’s been the “Friends of Obama Funding Agency” … as a result, it’s not the Augean Stables, but it’s close …
So, let’s take a look at this already infamous 74-question memo. In it we’ll find two things: (1) just what is setting their hair on fire, and (2) whatever clues are there about future actions by the new administration. I’ll discuss both individual questions and groups of questions.
Questions for DOE
This memo, as you might expect, is replete with acronyms. “DOE” is the Department of Energy. Here are the memo questions and my comments.
1. Can you provide a list of all boards, councils, commissions, working groups, and FACAs [Federal Advisory Committees] currently active at the Department? For each, can you please provide members, meeting schedules, and authority (statutory or otherwise) under which they were created?
If I were at DOE, this first question would indeed set MY hair on fire. The easiest way to get rid of something is to show that it was not properly established … boom, it’s gone. As a businessman myself, this question shows me that the incoming people know their business, and that the first order of business is to jettison the useless lumber.
2. Can you provide a complete list of ARPA-E’s projects?
Critical information for an incoming team.
3 Can you provide a list of the Loan Program Office’s outstanding loans, including the parties responsible for paying the loan back, term of the loan, and objective of the loan?
4 Can you provide a list of applications for loans the LPO has received and the status of those applications?
5 Can you provide a full accounting of DOE liabilities associated with any loan or loan guarantee programs?
6 The Department recently announced the issuance of $4.5 billion in loan guarantees for electric vehicles (and perhaps associated infrastructure). Can you provide a status on this effort?
Oh, man, they are going for the jugular. Loan Program Office? If there is any place that the flies would gather, it’s around the honey … it’s good to see that they are looking at loan guarantees for electric vehicles, a $4.5 billion dollar boondoggle that the government should NOT be in. I call that program the “Elon Musk Retirement Fund”.
Folks, for $4.5 billion dollars, we could provide clean water to almost half a million villages around the world … or we could put it into Elon Musk’s bank account or the account of some other electric vehicle manufacturer. I know which one I’d vote for … and I am equally sure which one the poor of the world would prefer.
7 What is the goal of the grid modernization effort? Is there some terminal point to this effort? Is its genesis statutory or something else?
Asking the right questions about vague programs …
8 Who “owns” the Mission Innovation and Clean Energy Ministerial efforts within the Department?
I love this question. Orphan departments are legendary in big bureaucracies … nobody owns them and they can do what they want. I don’t predict a long future for this Mission Impossible—Clean Energy effort..
9 What is the Department’s role with respect to the development of offshore wind?
Given that offshore wind is far and away the MOST EXPENSIVE of all the renewable options, the answer should be “None”.
10 Is there an assessment of the funds it would take to replace aging infrastructure in the complex? Is there a priority list of which facilities to be decommissioned?
Another critical question, about the state of their own facilities.
11 Which Assistant Secretary positions are rooted in statute and which exist at the discretion and delegation of the Secretary?
Like I said … these guys know how to do what they plan to do, which is to change the direction of the agency. All discretionary Assistant Secretaries must be sweating …
12 What is the statutory charge to the Department with respect to efficiency standards? Which products are subject to statutory requirements and which are discretionary to the Department?
Same thing. They want to find out what they can just cut, where the low-hanging fruit might be. I suspect this is about Obama’s ludicrous CAFE standards mandating a 50+ mile-per-gallon average for all car manufacturers.
13 Can you provide a list of all Department of Energy employees or contractors who have attended any Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings? Can you provide a list of when those meetings were and any materials distributed at those meetings, emails associated with those meetings, or materials created by Department employees or contractors in anticipation of or as a result of those meetings?
Now, this is the one that has the “scientists” involved most concerned. Me, I think they damn well should be concerned because what they have been doing all this time is HALF OF A COST/BENEFIT ANALYSIS!!
This is a pet peeve of mine. You can’t just talk of costs in a vacuum. To do that without considering the accompanying benefits is scientific malfeasance. To do it as a policy matter is nothing less than deliberately lying to the public. As a result, I hope that everyone engaged in this anti-scientific effort gets identified and if they cannot be fired for malfeasance then put them to work sweeping the floors. Talk about “fake news”, the so-called “social cost of carbon” is as fake as they come.
14 Did DOE or any of its contractors run the integrated assessment models (lAMs)? Did they pick the discount rates to be used with the lAMs? What was DOE’s opinion on the proper discount rates used with the lAMs? What was DOE’s opinion on the proper equilibrium climate sensitivity?
Cuts to the core, and lets the people know that vague handwaving is not going to suffice. These folks want actual answers to the hard questions, and they’ve definitely identified the critical points about the models.
15 What is the Department’s role with respect to JCPOA? Which office has the lead for the NNSA?
The JCPOA is usually a “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”. In this case, however, it refers to the Iran nuclear deal, and is an interesting question. The NNSA is the National Nuclear Security Adminstration.
16 What statutory authority has been given to the Department with respect to cybersecurity?
Critical in these times.
17 Can you provide a list of all Schedule C appointees, all non-career SES employees, and all Presidential appointees requiring Senate confirmation? Can you include their current position and how long they have served at the Department?
Here’s the deal. It’s basically impossible to fire a government worker unless they held up a bank and were caught in the act, and even then you’d have to have full-color video to make it stick. Public employee unions are among the world’s stupidest and most destructive idea … the government unions use their plentiful funds to affect the election of the people who set their pay scale. Yeah, that should go well …
BUT … if you can get rid of their position, then you’re not firing them, you just don’t have further work for them. They are trying to figure out who they can cut. Hair is catching fire on all sides with this one.
18 Can you offer more information about the EV Everywhere Grand Challenge?
Never heard of it, but then I never heard of a lot of things in this memo … which just shows that the memo makers did their homework. Turns out that the EV Everywhere Grand Challenge is another clumsy attempt to get Electric Vehicles Everywhere regardless of the fact that the public mostly doesn’t want Electric Vehicles Anywhere.
19 Can you provide a list of Department employees or contractors who attended any of the Conference of the Parties (under the UNFCCC) in the last five years?
An IPCC Conference of Parties is much more party than conference—it’s basically an excuse to party in some lovely location (think Bali, Cancun, …), with the party occasionally interrupted by the pesky conference. It is a meaningless exercise which ends up with an all-night session that finishes by announcing that everyone has signed on to the latest non-binding fantasy about how to end the use of fossil fuels, drive up energy prices, and screw the poor. And yes, if I were appointed to run the DOE, I would definitely want to know who has gone on these useless junkets.
Now, I know that people are going to complain about “scientific freedom” regarding the memo asking who worked on what … but if you don’t want to tell the incoming team what you’ve worked on … why not? Are you ashamed of what you’ve done? Look, every job I’ve had, if a new boss came in, they wanted to know what I had worked on in the past, and I simply answered them honestly. Scientists are no different.
Finally, government scientists presumably work on what their agency directs them to work on … so the issue of “scientific freedom” is way overblown in this context where they are NOT free to work on projects of their own choice.
20 Can you provide a list of reports to Congress or other external parties that are due in 2017?
Again, a critical question when you take over an organization—what deliverables is it contracted to produce? Like I said, these folks know what they are doing.
21 Can you provide a copy of any Participation Agreement under Section 1221 of EP Act signed by the Department?
We’re way down in the weeds now. This section of the EP Act allows three or more contiguous states to establish a regional transmission siting agency. Not sure why they’ve asked this, but it does add to their knowledge of the projected vague transmission grid actions, which appears like it could be a big money drain.
22 What mechanisms exist to help the national laboratories commercialize their scientific and technological prowess?
A forgotten task at the DOE, I’m sure.
23 How many fusion programs, both public and private, are currently being funded worldwide?
Huh … looking for duplication of activities.
24 Which activities does the Department describe as commercialization programs or programs with the specific purpose of developing a technology for market deployment?
Incoming administrations, if they’re smart, look for low hanging fruit. In this case if there are commercial programs near completion, they can be fast-tracked to provide evidence that the new administration is on the job.
25 Does or can the Department delineate research activities as either basic or applied research?
This is a critical distinction, and one that they possibly have never made.
26 Can you provide a list of all permitting authorities (and their authorizing statutes) currently held by DOE and their authorizing statutes?
Again, the local denizens will not like this a bit, more hair will spontaneously ignite. In part any bureaucracy prides itself on its power to stop people from doing things … in other words, they demand a permit for an action and then they can refuse to issue it. This asks not just for the permitting authorities, but once again for their authorizing statutes. Again, the easiest way to get rid of something is to show it was built without authorization …
27 Is there a readily available list of any technologies or products that have emerged from programs or the labs that are currently offered in the market without any subsidy?
Quite possibly not, but if so it would be an interesting list.
28 Are there statutory restrictions related to reinvigorating the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management?
29 Are there any statutory restrictions to restarting the Yucca Mountain project?
These two questions show us that they plan to restart Yucca Mountain, the shuttered nuclear waste repository.
30 Which programs within DOE are essential to meeting the goals of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan?
Because you can kiss them goodbye along with the CAP …
31 If DOE’s topline budget in accounts other than the 050 account were required to be reduced 10% over the next four fiscal years (from the FY17 request and starting in FY18), does the Department have any recommendations as to where those reductions should be made?
This is brilliant. It’s like my gorgeous ex-fiancee regarding colors. She asks me what color I like so she can cross it off the list of possibilities … and rightly so given my color sense. This strikes me as the same deal. The new Administration asks where the current denizens would cut ten percent … then when they are told it, they know they might want to cut somewhere else … useful info either way.
32 Does the Department have any thoughts on how to reduce the bureaucratic burden for exporting U.S. energy technology, including but not limited to commercial nuclear technology?
Likely not … but worth asking …
33 Is the number of Assistant Secretaries set by statute? Does the statute establish the number as a minimum or a maximum, or is it silent on the question?
Assistant Secretaries are now on DEFCON 1, or DEFCON 0.5, their hair is totally engulfed in flames …
34 Can you provide a list of all current open job postings and the status of those positions?
35 Can you provide a list of outstanding M&O contracts yet to be awarded for all DOE facilities and their current status?
36 Can you provide a list of non-M&O procurements/awards that are currently pending and their status?
Open jobs, outstanding Maintenance and Operation contracts, non-M&O procurements, they want to find out just exactly what is the current state of play. It will also allow the incoming folks to see what last-minute hires they’ve tried to jam through before the changeover.
37 Does DOE have a plan to resume the Yucca Mountain license proceedings?
They may have shelved or previous plans, good to know if so.
38 What secretarial determinations/records of decisions are pending?
Have they made decisions that are not written down? If so, what? Man, these people are thorough, I wouldn’t have thought to ask that one.
39 What should the incoming Administration do to balance risk, performance and ultimately completion in contracting?
40 What should this Administration do differently to make sure there are the right incentives to attract qualified contractors?
An interesting pair of questions.
41 What is the plan for funding cleanup of Portsmouth and Paducah when the current uranium inventory designated for barter in exchange for cleanup services, is no longer available (excluding reinstating the UED&D fee on commercial nuclear industry or utilizing the USEC fund)?
Back into the weeds, proving that these folks have done their homework. Right now, those shuttered nuclear plants are trading uranium, a valuable resource, for cleanup … what happens when the uranium runs out? Who is on the hook for the costs?
42 What is the right funding level for EM to make meaningful progress across the complex and meet milestone and regulatory requirements?
According to the Energy.gov glossary, “EM” is environmental management. I’m not sure what the DOE is required to do in this, and that’s what they are asking.
43 What is the greatest opportunity for reduction in life cycle cost/return on investment?
44 Describe your alternatives to the ever increasing WTP cost and schedule, whether technical or programmatic?
45 With respect to EM, what program milestones will be reached in each of the next four years?
47 How can the DOE support existing reactors to continue operating as part of the nation’s infrastructure?
48 What can DOE do to help prevent premature closure of plants?
49 How do you recommend continuing to supporting the licensing of Small Modular Reactors?
50 How best can DOE optimize its Advanced Reactor R&D activities to maximize their value proposition and work with investors to development and commercialize advanced reactors?
All of these questions are concerned with the regulation and waste disposal of nuclear plants, suggesting strongly that the new administration is interested in keeping existing plants open and licensing new plants.
Questions for EIA
EIA is the Energy Information Agency charged with collecting and maintaining energy-related data.
51 EIA is an independent agency in DOE. How has EIA ensured its independence in your data and analysis over the past 8 years? In what instances do you think EIA’ s independence was most challenged?
Now this is a fascinating two-part question, especially the second part. Basically they are asking, can we trust the EIA, and what pressures is it subject to?
52 Part of EIA’s charter is to do analyses based on Congressional and Departmental requests. Has EIA denied or not responded to any of these requests over the last ten years?
53 EIA customarily has or had set dates for completions of studies and reports. In general, have those dates been adhered to?
54 In the Annual Energy Outlook 2016, EIA assumed that the Clean Power Plan should be in the reference case despite the fact that the reference case is based on existing laws and regulations. Why did EIA make that assumption, which seems to be atypical of past forecasts?
Uh-oh … caught messing with the books …
55 EIA’s assessments of levelized costs for renewable technologies do not contain back-up costs for the fossil fuel technologies that are brought on-line to replace the generation when those technologies are down. Is this is a correct representation of the true levelized costs?
Since this is an issue I’ve raised publicly in my posts on levelized costs, I’m overjoyed to see them ask it.
56 Has EIA done analysis that shows that additional back-up generation is not needed? How does EIA’s analysis compare with other analyses on this issue?
This seems like they’re talking about some EIA analysis that says that such generation isn’t needed, and asking them to justify it. If not, they are simply forcing them to admit that yes, backup is needed, and no, they haven’t been including those costs … good on them.
57 Renewable and solar technologies are expected to need additional transmission costs above what fossil technologies need. How has EIA represented this in the AEO forecasts? What is the magnitude of those transmission costs?
Again, excellent questions that the EIA has not been posing, much less answering.
58 There are studies that show that your high resource and technology case for oil and gas represents the shale gas and oil renaissance far better than your reference case. Why has EIA not put those assumptions in your reference case?
Yes, they definitely should put those in … but then from all appearances they hate fracking with a passion …
59 Can you describe the number of personnel hired into management positions at EIA from outside EIA and compare it to the number of personnel hired into management positions at EIA who were currently serving at EIA?
Hiring outside vs promoting inside … interesting question.
60 How does EIA ensure quality in its data and analyses?
61 Where does EIA think most improvement is needed in its data and analyses?
I’d love to see the answer to this one.
62 We note that EIA added distributed solar estimations to your electricity data reports. Those numbers are not part of your supply/demand balance on a Btu basis. Why has that not been updated accordingly?
Uh-oh again … someone finally asking the hard questions.
63 How many vacancies does EIA have in management and staff positions? What plans, if any, does EIA have to fill those positions before January 20?
64 Is the EIA budget sufficient to ensure quality in data and analyses? If not, where does it fall short?
More questions to clarify the fiscal landscape.
65 Does EIA have cost comparisons of sources of electricity generation at the national level?
Not that I know of … but then they may have them and have not released them. We’ll see.
Questions on labs
DOE labs are separate from the DOE itself … I knew the DOE had labs but I had no idea they had seventeen of them, viz:
National Energy Technology Laboratory at Albany, Oregon (2005)
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at Berkeley, California (1931)
Los Alamos National Laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico (1943)
Oak Ridge National Laboratory at Oak Ridge, Tennessee (1943)
Argonne National Laboratory at DuPage County, Illinois (1946)
Ames Laboratory at Ames, Iowa (1947)
Brookhaven National Laboratory at Upton, New York (1947)
Sandia National Laboratories at Albuquerque, New Mexico and Livermore, California (1948)
Idaho National Laboratory between Arco and Idaho Falls, Idaho (1949)
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory at Princeton, New Jersey (1951)
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory at Livermore, California (1952)
Savannah River National Laboratory at Aiken, South Carolina (1952)
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Menlo Park, California (1962)
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory at Richland, Washington (1965)
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory at Batavia, Illinois (1967)
National Renewable Energy Laboratory at Golden, Colorado (1977)
Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility at Newport News, Virginia (1984)
Let me say that as a businessman looking at that list, it screams “Duplication Of Effort” at about 180 decibels. Hence the following questions:
66 What independent evaluation panels does the lab have to assess the scientific value of its work? Who sits on these panels? How often do they hold sessions? Do they publish reports?
67 Can you provide a list of cooperative research and development grants (CRADAs) for the past five years? Please provide funding amounts, sources, and outcomes?
68 Can you provide a list of licensing agreements and royalty proceeds for the last five years?
69 Can you provide a list of the top twenty salaried employees of the lab, with total remuneration and the portion funded by DOE?
70 Can you provide a list of all peer-reviewed publications by lab staff for the past three years?
71 Can you provide a list of current professional society memberships of lab staff?
72 Can you provide a list of publications by lab staff for the past three years?
73 Can you provide a list of all websites maintained by or contributed to by laboratory staff during work hours for the past three years?
74 Can you provide a list of all other positions currently held by lab staff, paid and unpaid, including faculties, boards, and consultancies?
Well, it sure sounds like the gravy train ride is over, and the labs will be asked to justify their existence. I would not be surprised to see some closed and some merged.
My first take from all of this is that there will be a top-to-bottom shakeup of the DOE, with deadwood cut, permitting carefully reassessed, positions eliminated, labs merged, the EIA charged with giving real numbers, nuclear strengthened, and the climate nonsense moved way down the list.
My second take from all of this is that the people who made the memo are very good at their job. They’ve asked all of the right questions and then some.
However, I don’t find in this anything to support the claim that the new Administration is looking to hold up a list of scientists for opprobrium, or that they plan to interfere in the scientific process. As with every incoming Administration, they DO plan to refocus and redirect the overall future course of the agency, which will inescapably mean that the scientific studies will move in a different direction.
Finally, folks, lets get real. Every Administration has chosen the scientists it want to be studying things, and has told them what the Administration wants them to study. If these DOE scientists don’t want to be re-directed to study different things, this is not an infringement of their scientific freedom. Instead, it is part of the price you pay for being the government’s scientist—just as in any other field of endeavor you do what is directed by the people who sign your paycheck.