Will the Department of Energy Finally Stop Nuking America? Prospects for National Energy Reform

By Gray, Peter | The Washington Monthly, April 1990 | Go to article overview

Will the Department of Energy Finally Stop Nuking America? Prospects for National Energy Reform


Gray, Peter, The Washington Monthly


Will the Department of Energy Finally Stop Nuking America?

January 26, 1990: The briefing room atmosphere was cheerful and relaxed. Several staff members seemed disappointed by the low press turnout. We waited for Department of Energy (DOE) second-in-command W. Henson Moore, the deputy secretary.

Moore started by announcing "the first policy initiative of its kind in a decade," then said, "...energy efficiency and renewables [are] the cleanest, cheapest, safest means of meeting our nation's needs in the 1990s and beyond."

"... There's no need to wait for the 1991 budget; no need to wait for the National Energy Strategy to come out in the fall; we are going to start today.... It's time for the government to set an example. We've been talking about it for a decade; now is the time to do something about it. We will start this morning in this room."

The reporter next to me had dozed off. He had his press packet; why bother taking notes? Who would know that he had missed the off-script remarks? Here we were watching the Berlin Wall come down, and this guy was napping on the job.

Moore sketched the projected results of the conservation and renewable energy initiatives. Federal investment of $336 million over a decade will return cash savings of 95-to-1; energy consumption will drop by 14 percent of imported oil; 15 large power plants will not need to be built; and carbon and sulphur dioxide emissions will decrease.

Moore began the first program under the initiative: sending out efficiency teams of lighting specialists to "help get the federal house in order." "I want to introduce to you the first member of our efficiency teams--Charlie Jones, a career electrician for the Forrestal building."

A middle-aged, somewhat shy man in tan coveralls with an oval name patch sewn on the chest came in with an assistant, a ladder, and a set of hand tools. He opened a fluorescent ceiling fixture. As efficiency specialist Jones began wiring in a new solid state ballast (the voltage-boosting transformer that drives flurescent tubes), Moore explained that each device would save taxpayers six dollars per year.

It may sound ridiculous, but there I sat, watching this dog-and-pony show, contemplating the possibility that DOE after a decade of neglect might begin to do something to benefit the country and improve the health of the planet, and tears were coming to my eyes.

After a year on the job, DOE Secretary James D. Watkins shows some promise of solving the perennial executive branch conundrum: Can we find agency leaders who have enough inside knowledge and power to get things done, yet can be trusted to act in the national interest? If Watkins fulfills this promise at Energy, it won't be a minute too soon--America has no more of a coherent energy policy today than it did when DOE was estabished; conservation has been mostly for volunteers and small entrepreneurs; a significant amount of money is still being put into nuclear power plants that aren't producing a kilowatt, while our air and water are threatened by nuclear waste; in the meantime, DOE has spent more and more of its time and money not on creative approaches to this mess but on ... making nuclear bombs. So the idea that DOE may be turning towards such essentials as energy conservation is a radical shift-one that should be encouraged at every turn.

Bomb America first

One mid-January afternoon I waited in a reception area in DOE's Forrestal Building to interview Linda Stuntz, deputy undersecretary in charge of the Office of Policy, Planning, and Analysis. Watkins has called Stuntz his "right-hand person for strategy development," and during the past year she has organized a series of public "energy strategy hearings" around the country.

A prominent photo on the wall gives a candid statement of DOEhs real business. It shows a tranquil desert scene--at the Nevada Test Site, where the U. …

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