Ed. Note: Jim Clarkson is a soft-spoken everyday man who has experienced first-hand the ins-and-outs of crony public-utility regulation, first as the energy manager at a large industrial user and more recently as an energy procurement/installation consultant. Clarkson, a classical liberal, has also been instrumental in the development of the Institute for Energy Research (IER) as a free-market education and advocacy organization.
“A Federal employee asked what I did and why I was on the Board…. I airily waved at the group and said: ‘I’m the only one here making an honest living.’ That didn’t go over very well. I shouldn’t have said it, but after over 50 years of observing state utility regulation, it still upsets me to see smart young people devoted to limiting freedom and prosperity when they could be doing something useful.”
Late in the Trump administration I was appointed to be on a U.S. Department of Energy advisory board. The State Energy Advisory Board consisted of some 20 state-level bureaucrats and one private sector person – me. The advisory board’s mission was to give advice on energy efficiency (EE) and renewable state policies to an Assistant Secretary of DOE.
I quickly found the swamp culture is not confined to Washington. The other members of the Board were appointees of Governors, usually the state government energy manager, state consumer advocate or a public utility commissioner. All sincerely believe there are no limits on government actions, as long as the goals are politically popular. This is a whole other world; I was on Mars.
After my first meeting I made a policy proposal for the Board to adopt and submit to the Assistant Secretary. The first sentence read: “The Department of Energy should not in any way encourage Utility EE programs, nor should any state agencies encourage utilities in their state to have such programs.” This was followed by a pithy but profound list of reasons for such a recommendation.
I wasn’t so surprised this proposal was overwhelmingly rejected, but the Board further adopted a recommendation saying the exact opposite of my proposal. The official recommendation was sent up the DOE hierarchy, so I sent my proposal as a dissent up the chain also. I was told it was improper to file dissents. Oh, well. Wading in the swamp.
The Board meetings consisted mostly of presentations by various other departments in DOE. These folks are really good at Power Point. They all discussed how they “touched base” and “plugged in” with other groups in DOE and other federal agencies.
These people spend a lot of money. The Board recommendations to these various groups was that they should publicize their programs better. The DOE presenters said they already had their program information on line for the state level energy managers to see.
In a social gathering of DOE people and Board members, a Federal employee asked what I did and why I was on the Board. I tried to describe what I do, but she looked confused. I airily waved at the group and said: “I’m the only one here making an honest living.” That didn’t go over very well. I shouldn’t have said it. After over 50 years of observing state utility regulation, it still upsets me to see smart young people devoted to limiting freedom and prosperity when they could be doing something useful. They are not really communists or socialists’ they are just “governmentists”.
Hand raised in the back of the room
Q. What is a libertarian who is hostile to all government intervention in the economy doing on a Board that wants to expand government in the first place?
A. Good question. I was told the Trump transition team wanted to see new ideas on these various Boards of questionable value. Actually, my ideas are not new but date back to the founding of this country.