A Culture Of Incompetence at the Department Of Energy

More than a year ago, I asked Representatives John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.) to join me in asking the Government Accountability Office to conduct an investigation into how well the Department of Energy is managing its appliance and building code standards programs. A few days ago, we released a 40-page report laying from the GAO that lays out a blistering indictment of a culture of incompetence and delay at the Department of Energy’s appliance and building codes standards setting programs. While I have long had concerns about the DOE’s delays in issuing new or revised appliance standards, what the GAO is telling us in this report, is that the problem is far worse than any of us had even suspected.

As the agency responsible for issuing energy efficiency standards for consumer and commercial appliances, the DOE has missed all 34 Congressional deadlines for setting benchmarks in 20 different product categories and overlooked 3 out of 4 of the deadlines for issuing commercial building codes determinations. While some of these delays have only been for a few months, there are others that have ranged up to more than 15 years.

This careless dilly-dallying has harmed the environment and drained the pockets of Americans for far too long.

According to the GAO, if you look at just the top 4 appliances where the greatest energy savings can be achieved through new standards (refrigerators & freezers, central air conditioners & heat pumps, water heaters, and clothes washers), DOE’s failure to act will result in $28 billion in foregone energy savings by 2030. That’s enough energy to supply the energy needs of 20 million American households.

And when DOE finally does get around to setting an appliance efficiency standard, the standards they chose are still far too weak. For example, a recent proposed DOE standard for the efficiency of the distribution transformers used by electrical utilities were so weak that even the utilities thought they needed to be strengthened! DOE has also proposed furnace efficiency standards be set at an 80% efficiency level – one which is already met by 99% of furnaces sold in this country right now. This was done despite the fact that DOE’s internal analysis reportedly shows a national standard at 90% efficiency is the most cost effective.

Since the total demand for electricity and natural gas in this country is largely a function of the consumer and commercial appliances we use, if we make each of those appliances more energy efficient, we reduce the demand for electricity and gas, saving consumers money while preventing the generation of emissions into the environment. GAO has shed light on a culture of incompetence and delay at the DOE programs that are supposed to help bring us these energy and environmental benefits. Now it is up to the Department to demonstrate that it can do better to fulfill the promise of making America the world’s most energy efficient economy.