At Breaking Energy, a blog site posting U.S. Department of Energy feed, an (unnamed) intern wrote a post last Friday, “How I Energized My Summer: An Intern’s Inside Look at the Department of Energy.”
“In Public Affairs,” he or she said, “our job is to help explain the work of the Department, the Secretary and, ultimately, the President.” Continuing:
Whether it’s making an announcement on improving efficiency standards for furnace fans or releasing information on new carbon capture technology, my office is working to craft and deliver these messages. We also answer press calls coming in from across the country, helping the media disseminate our information to people near and far from the nation’s capital.
“Internships are often thought of as a career vehicle, meant to lift you into your post-graduate life,” the conclusion began.
But my Department of Energy experience goes far beyond just that. Personally, it has given me the opportunity to use my education to contribute to and understand a federal agency’s need to disperse accurate, meaningful information.
It has been a privilege to have been offered this opportunity, and I fully plan on using the lessons I’ve learned here throughout my final year at Wake Forest University and, afterwards, in my professional life. I leave the Department of Energy with a passion for policy and a desire to be a part our nation’s energy future — and I have my internship experience to thank for that.
How to respond? No doubt many DOE employees are nice, sincere, and dedicated. The experience was undoubtedly special and enlightening. But this is not a voluntary institution but one based on coercion and politics. Inside the wall of DOE is an anti-market, and even anti-industrial worldview.
Enter Glenn Schleede, a veteran of the energy public policy battles on the side of consumers, taxpayers, and, in short, realism.
Here is Schleede’s response:
August 9, 2014
Dear Mr. or Ms. Intern:
Thank you for your article that appeared this morning at BreakingEnergy.com. Clearly, you have had a great experience as a summer intern in the Office of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in Washington, DC.
I admire your ambition, personal energy, and enthusiasm. However, having had experience in the world of energy and in Washington, DC, I’d like to offer some advice as you return for your final year of study at Wake Forest University. Specifically:
a. Focus on developing discernment skills so that you can tell the difference between facts and opinions or propaganda;
b. Evaluate critically any information that you encounter with the goal of finding and, as a journalist or policy maker, passing along only that which is factual and objective.
c. Apply those skills in evaluating the performance of elected and appointed government officials.
The following examples may help make the above points:
1. You are quite correct that technological advances will be critically important in supplying the nation’s and the world’s energy requirements. However, it is not necessarily the case that DOE is the best judge of which energy technologies should be pursued. As you may have heard, governments are not good at picking “winning technologies.”
Consider, for example, the fact that during the 40-year period from 1973 to 2012., The U.S. Department of Energy and its predecessors spent more than $158 billion (in 2012 $) of our tax dollars on “Energy R&D” (as that term is defined in the President’s budget).
Despite this huge expenditure on a wide variety of allegedly promising energy technologies, DOE has yet to produce a significant new technology that is commercially viable (i.e., without tax breaks or subsidies) in the private, competitive economy.
2. From your work at DOE, you may have noticed that the information that it distributes is not necessarily objective. Take wind energy, for example. If you scour the information DOE and its national “laboratories” and other contractors have issued on wind energy during the last few decades, you might conclude that it is the greatest stuff since the emergence of Twinkies.
You would not find in DOE-issued information the readily available and well documented facts demonstrating that electricity from wind:
(a) is very high in true cost and low in true value,
(b) has substantial adverse environmental, economic, electric system reliability, scenic, or property value impacts, or
(c) despite billions in federal, state, and local government tax breaks and subsidies, there is no evidence that electricity from wind will become commercially viable (i.e., without tax breaks and subsidies).
You may have seen dozens of DOE or national “laboratory” sponsored “studies,” “analyses,” and “reports” that seem to conclude that energy technologies favored by DOE are truly great.
Did you notice that individuals or organizations selected to prepare those studies, analyses, and reports probably would not have been selected unless the official authorizing the work knew in advance that the results would be consistent with the opinions and objectives of the authorizing official? If the results were purported to be “peer reviewed,” did you notice how the reviewers were selected?
3. If you end up working for the U.S. DOE or one of its contractors after graduation, whose interests will you be serving? Will it be the taxpayers who are paying your salary and benefits or someone else? With your taxpayer funded work, will you be pursuing objectives that are in the national and public interest or some other objective?
4. Finally, while you were in Washington, did you notice that the money being spent by government officials far exceeds the amount of money being collected from today’s taxpayers? Did you notice that the difference between the amount spent and the amount collected (i.e., the deficit) becomes part of the national debt that you, your children, and your grandchildren will bear? That debt now exceeds $17.6 trillion. It will soon be $20 trillion. In 14 years or less, it will double just due to the interest costs.
You might even look at this in another way: As you pursue your career in the years ahead, the cost of the salary you earned this past summer – now a part of the national debt — will grow and grow and grow unless our government officials – elected and appointed – including those in the U.S. Department of Energy, begin living within the nation’s means and pay off the huge debt they have created. You will be repaying your DOE salary with lots of interest.
Again, as indicated at the start of this note, please spend the your next year developing your discernment skills and then apply those skills in evaluating the information coming your way and in evaluating the performance of government officials who are elected or appointed to serve the public interest.