Senior Republican seeks info on Energy Department, clean energy group secret talks

NREL was responding to a report by King Juan Carlos University in Spain that found clean energy subsidies in that country cost more jobs than they created because they took away resources from the more efficient private sector.

Republicans in the U.S. Congress seized on the study to fight President Barack Obama’s climate and clean energy goals. NREL said in its report that the Spanish study was flawed and its data did not support its own conclusions.

The controversy seemed largely over until the release this week of emails, obtained by a free-market think tank through public records laws, that suggest some measure of cooperation among DoE officials and representatives from AWEA, CAP, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Jim Tankersley first reported on the emails in the Chicago Tribune’s Swamp politics blog.

In his letter, Sensenbrenner asks Catherine Zoi, the assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, how often NREL and EERE “coordinate policy strategy with special interest groups?”

“Please provide all documentation of contact with CAP, AWEA, and UCS to the Select Committee,” Sensenbrenner directs.

Here’s the letter:


March 3, 2010

Secretary Zoi:
 
I would appreciate clarification on your January 6, 2010 letter regarding the “National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Response to the Report ‘Study of the Effects on the Employment of Public Aid to Renewable Energy Sources’ from King Juan Carlos University (Spain).” Your response did not address the questions I initially posed in my September 24, 2009 letter.

I would like a response to the following questions:

1.      How much DOE funding was provided for this specific study?

2.      Who requested the study and what was the stated reason to undertake the response?

3.      Who initially approved the white paper response and funding?

4.      What is NREL’s policy of commissioning reactionary studies? What guidelines does the DOE provide?

Further, a recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request has revealed new concerns in relation to the white paper. On November 13, 2009 my staff emailed the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) and requested an update on the status of the September 24 letter.  At that time your staff responded “I don’t believe that we have seen this letter before.” The FOIA request, however, reveals emails as early as September 29, in which DOE staff discussed my September 24 letter.  I am extremely disappointed that DOE EERE took nearly three-and-a-half months to provide an inadequate response to my inquiry.  Given the recent FOIA documents, I’m equally concerned that the delay stemmed not from inattention, but from a deliberate attempt to avoid the inquiry.  Given the recent FOIA disclosures, please respond to the following:
 
1.    The documents reveal internal debate in which DOE and EERE staff deliberately avoids answering direct questions in relation to the origination of the study. This elusiveness is troubling.  A September 2 exchange asked, “how often does [this type of study] happen” and that “this is the first time we’ve been asked to respond so directly [to another study],” with the reply as “That is probably the true answer.”  Another DOE employee specifically says “Let’s avoid this type of direct response.” This tactic was intended to mislead to direct inquiries into the study.

a.       Can you identify any previous instances in which NREL commissioned a paper intended as a direct rebuttal of a foreign study?
 
6.      DOE and EERE, in conjunction with NREL, appear to have closely coordinated a strategic response to the King Juan Carlos study with outside interest groups, specifically the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the Center for American Progress (CAP), and others.


a.       How often do NREL and EERE coordinate policy strategy with special interest groups? Please provide all documentation of contact with CAP, AWEA, and UCS to the Select Committee.

Please respond to the above questions by March 19, 2010.
 
Sincerely,
 
F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, JR.
Ranking Member
Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming