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Overview

The Department of Energy (DOE) is a cabinet-level agency that has both important energy- and national security-related missions. DOE’s roots go all the way back to World War II and the Manhattan Project, the top-secret program that launched America’s effort to develop and stockpile nuclear weapons. DOE’s predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission, managed the country’s nuclear weapons complex until the 1970s, when the Energy Department assumed that responsibility upon its creation. Today, Energy officials still oversee the laboratories that were once primarily responsible for creating weapons of mass destruction, along with implementing policies geared toward strengthening the United States’ sources of energy. The DOE carries out policies ranging from nuclear power to fossil fuels to alternative energy sources. Under the current administration of President Barack Obama, U.S. energy policy has focused primarily on “clean energy” initiatives and technologies, a departure from the policies of former President George W. Bush, whose DOE provided considerable support to nuclear power and oil development, which provoked criticism from environmentalists and those on the left.


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History:

The federal government’s earliest agencies that delved into energy-related policy were those that focused on petroleum and coal. The Office of Fossil Energy traces its roots back to the early 20th Century when oil was just beginning to become a much sought after fuel source for the budding automotive industry and for trans-oceanic shipping. But it was during World War II when a powerful new energy source was developed for military purposes that the U.S. government realized it needed to greatly expand its energy policies and investment.

 

In 1942, federal military officials established the Manhattan Project to build the world’s first atomic bombs, which were dropped on Japan in 1945. Following the war, Congress debated whether atomic power should be controlled by civilians or the military, eventually deciding on the former by passing the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (pdf). As a result of the act, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was created and took control of the nuclear weapons complex, a sprawling network of laboratories and facilities that built America’s nuclear weapons stockpile. During the early Cold War years, the AEC focused on designing and producing nuclear weapons and developing nuclear reactors for naval propulsion. This mission placed greater emphasis on weapons production than concerns over environmental degradation and health hazards produced by nuclear weapons facilities.

 

The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (pdf) ended exclusive government use of the atom and began the growth of the commercial nuclear power, giving the AEC authority to regulate the new industry. In response to changing needs in the mid 1970s, the AEC was abolished and the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 (pdf) created two new agencies: the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to regulate the nuclear power industry and the Energy Research and Development Administration to manage the nuclear weapon, naval reactor, and energy-development programs.

 

However, the extended energy crisis of the 1970s soon demonstrated the need for unified energy organization and planning. The Department of Energy Organization Act brought the federal government's agencies and programs into a single agency—the Department of Energy (DOE), activated on October 1, 1977. The DOE assumed the responsibilities of the Federal Energy Administration (pdf), the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Federal Power Commission and parts and programs of several other agencies.

 

The Energy Department provided the framework for a comprehensive national energy plan by coordinating and administering the energy functions of the federal government. The DOE undertook responsibility for long-term, high-risk research and development of energy technology, federal power marketing, energy conservation, the nuclear weapons program, energy regulatory programs, and a central energy data collection and analysis program.

 

Over its two-decade history, the DOE has shifted its emphasis and focus as the needs of the nation have changed and as different administrations have imposed their own priorities. During the late 1970s, the department emphasized energy development and regulation, including early exploration into alternative energy sources. In the 1980s, nuclear weapons research, development and production took a priority as the Reagan administration sought to expand America’s strategic position vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. The 1980s also witnessed the turning of public opinion against nuclear power following accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. By the beginning of the 1990s, the Cold War was over, leading the department to focus on environmental cleanup of the nuclear weapons complex, nonproliferation and stewardship of the nuclear stockpile, energy efficiency and conservation and technology transfer and industrial competitiveness. Research into nuclear power was greatly curtailed as well.

 

But with the election of George W. Bush in 2001, nuclear power gained an important ally, as did the oil industry, which spurred the Energy Department to focus on these two energy sectors. A key development in energy policy during the Bush presidency was the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (pdf). Within the 500-page law was a broad collection of subsidies for nuclear and oil companies, as well as new initiatives designed to develop and promote a new generation of nuclear power reactors.

 

With the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, “clean energy” was given renewed attention. The passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (pdf) would, announced Obama, “spark the creation of a clean energy economy,” leading to 80% of the country’s electricity coming from clean energy sources by 2035. Indeed, according to the White House, the act provided for more than $80 billion in tax credits and investments in clean energy and transportation projects. Among those investments were $11 billion for a smart grid, $6.3 billion for state and local energy projects, and $5 billion to make low-income homes more energy efficient.

 

Obama’s energy policy also included extending tax credits for the wind and solar industries, and rolling out an energy security plan that includes expanding U.S. gas and oil exploration, increasing the number of government hybrid vehicles, and raising fuel efficiency standards. His call for new industry regulations in response to climate change threats prompted a predictable reaction from industry and conservative politicians, who charge that such policies would harm the U.S. economy and job growth.

History of Energy in the United States: 1635-2000

Department of Energy 1977-1994, A Summary History (pdf)

The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb (pdf)

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What it Does:

The Department of Energy (DOE) is responsible for advancing the national, economic and energy security of the United States through the implementation of policies regarding nuclear power, fossil fuels, and alternative energy sources. The DOE promotes scientific and technological innovation in all of the aforementioned energy sectors and is charged with the environmental cleanup of the national nuclear weapons complex. One of its key duties is the formulation and implementation of the National Energy Policy. This comprehensive and wide ranging document covers energy challenges facing the US (pdf);  impacts of high energy prices (pdf); protecting America’s environment (pdf); increasing energy conservation and efficiency (pdf); increasing domestic energy supplies (pdf); increasing America’s use of renewable and alternative energy (pdf); America’s energy infrastructure (pdf); and enhancing national energy security and international relations (pdf).  

 

Key DOE offices:

Nuclear Power and Weapons and Their Consequences

Office of Nuclear Energy

The Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) is the lead agency within the DOE charged with promoting and developing nuclear power. The NE helps spearhead new nuclear energy generation technologies, including plans to develop proliferation-resistant nuclear fuel that can maximize energy from other nuclear fuel. The office also maintains and enhances the national nuclear technology infrastructure and manages research laboratories and radiological facilities. The programs funded by the NE are designed to develop new nuclear reactors that will help diversify the domestic energy supply through public-private partnerships.

 

National Nuclear Security Administration

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is a semi-autonomous agency within the DOE that is responsible for overseeing the nation’s nuclear weapons complex. Using private contractors to run day-to-day operations, the NNSA manages highly classified research laboratories and nuclear defense facilities that maintain the stockpile of nuclear weapons as well as provide the propulsion systems for the U.S. Navy’s nuclear fleet. Born out of controversy, the NNSA has struggled since its creation in 2000 to move past the mistakes of the Energy Department that led Congress to establish this new agency. Security failures involving foreign espionage prompted the administration of President Bill Clinton and Congress to reorganize the DOE and entrust the NNSA with the duty of taking care of the nation’s post-Cold War arsenal of nuclear weapons. The agency, however, has repeatedly been criticized for its own lapses in security and other blunders.

 

Office of Environmental Management

The Office of Environmental Management (EM) is responsible for overseeing the cleanup of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex. Representing a leftover from the Cold War, vast amounts of radioactive and toxic waste and contamination are spread throughout nuclear weapons facilities around the country, requiring long-term efforts involving environmental restoration, waste management, technology development, and land reuse by EM. The agency has succeeded in completing cleanup at 90 nuclear sites and continues its efforts at 17 additional sites located in 11 states.

 

Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning Fund

Managed by the Office of Environmental Management, the Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning Fund supports the cleanup of some of the nation’s most contaminated areas. The polluted sites are all former production facilities used during the Cold War to supply enriched uranium for nuclear warheads and commercial nuclear reactors. Located in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio, the plants encompass more than 30 million square feet of floor space, miles of interconnecting pipes, and thousands of acres of land that are contaminated with radioactive and hazardous materials. Cleanup of the sites is expected to be completed around 2040 and cost upward of $20 billion.

 

Office of Legacy Management

The Office of Legacy Management (LM) picks up where the Office of Environmental Management (EM) leaves off. Once cleanup at former nuclear weapons facilities is completed by the EM, the LM takes over the location to manage any remaining environmental and human issues; it currently manages more than 87 sites located throughout the country. The office is responsible for managing issues consisting of site monitoring, property management, grants to assist local communities affected by facility closure, records storage and pensions, health care, and life insurance for former workers.

 

Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management

The Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM) was responsible for disposing of the nation’s civilian and military nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel. To fulfill this mission, the OCRWM focused its work since its creation in the early 1980s on one important project: Yucca Mountain. Located in southern Nevada, Yucca Mountain was primed to become the nation’s first geologic repository for the long-term burial of nuclear waste that has been piling up around the country for the past six decades. According to the agency, the United States had accumulated 53,440 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear reactors by 2005. In addition, military-related activities are expected to produce 22,000 canisters of solid radioactive waste for future disposal. Altogether, experts estimated that 135,000 tons of waste would end up being buried at the site.

 

Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board

The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) is an independent federal agency that conducts scientific and technical assessments of the DOE’s activities to dispose of the nation’s commercial spent nuclear fuel and defense high-level radioactive waste. It had evaluated DOE’s technical and scientific work to establish Yucca Mountain as the sole repository for nuclear waste, a $15-billion effort that was defunded in 2009. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendments of 1987, which established the board, the NWTRB has access to draft documents prepared by the DOE and its contractors so that it can conduct its review in “real time,” not after the fact. Twice a year, the board reports its conclusions and recommendations to Congress and to the Secretary of Energy and points out concerns from outside parties. It has no regulatory or implementing authority. The board consists of 11 members who are nominated by the National Academy of Sciences on the basis of expertise, which ranges from geochemistry to materials science to hydrology to transportation. Members are then appointed by the president and serve a four-year term.

 

Office of Health, Safety and Security

Created in 2006, the Office of Health, Safety and Security (HSS) is responsible for overseeing worker safety and security matters at nuclear weapons facilities located across the country. It has been the subject of much controversy since its very beginning when Energy Department leaders decided to eliminate the previous office handling worker safety—the Office of Environment, Safety and Health—and turn those duties over to the newly formed HSS, which is led by a longtime security chief. Critics contended the move was designed to protect large private contractors at the expense of worker safety. Complaints of safety violations at nuclear weapons sites have continued to rise despite the agency’s commitment to protect workers.

 

Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) is an independent government agency responsible for monitoring and advising DOE’s management of defense nuclear facilities, some of which today are being dismantled and cleaned up. Under its mandate from Congress, the board is charged with ensuring the implementation of DOE health and safety standards by energy officials and to issue advisory recommendations regarding work at facilities. The board also investigates operations or specific problems that arise at facilities that could adversely impact public health or safety and issues recommendations to address these problems. The DNFSB publishes unclassified reports with recommendations to correct problems at DOE facilities.

 

Renewable Energy

Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) researches and develops alternative fuels and helps promote the use of these fuels. The office is concerned with developing cleaner burning fuels, wind, hydro energy, and other renewable energy sources in order to break the dependency the U.S. has on foreign oil and other non-renewable resources. As part of its mission, the EERE creates tax incentives for private businesses to develop new technologies that will assist in the overall goal of creating new and cleaner energy sources. According to the EERE, “clean energy” is defined as energy-efficient technologies and practices that use less energy, and alternative power and delivery technologies that produce and transport power and heat more cleanly than conventional sources.

 

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is the main research center for developing renewable energy technologies and helping get those technologies into the marketplace. The laboratory’s main focus is to analyze and understand alternative energy technologies and the U.S. electrical grid system support to reduce emissions and dependence on conventional fuels. The NREL’s research focuses on thirteen areas for innovation in efficient and renewable energies. It is the principal research facility for the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Office of Science and the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. The NREL also provides technical assistance, energy planning, and economic development for many organizations and industries in the U.S.

 

Power Marketing Administrations

The Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs) are four federal agencies responsible for marketing hydropower—primarily excess power produced by federal dams and projects operated by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. The four federal PMAs, which market and distribute power to 60 million people in 34 states, are required to give preference to public utility districts and cooperatives. Each PMA is a distinct and self-contained entity within the DOE, much like a wholly owned subsidiary of a corporation, and each is affected by its own unique regional issues and conditions. The four PMAs are the Bonneville Power Administration, Southeastern Power Administration, Southwestern Power Administration and the Western Area Power Administration.

 

Electricity, Oil, Gas and Coal

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the federal agency responsible for overseeing the electrical, natural gas, and oil industries. It has jurisdiction over state-to-state electricity sales, wholesale electric rates, hydroelectric licensing, natural-gas pricing, and oil pipeline rates. It also reviews and authorizes liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, pipelines and non-federal hydropower projects. The FERC is composed of up to five commissioners appointed by the president, with no more than three commissioners belonging to the same political party. Although an independent agency, FERC has proven susceptible to lobbying and political influence.

 

Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability

The Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE) is in charge of overseeing the availability of electricity throughout the country. The OE makes sure the U.S. electrical grid is working properly, both now and in the future, as new technologies become available to better provide electrical service to American homes, businesses, and governments. It funds research and development programs that explore new means of storing and delivering electricity. The office also works to identify any infrastructure problems that could potentially cause large-scale power outages, such as the 2003 blackout that affected the Midwest, Northeast, and parts of Canada. Working with other federal agencies, the OE also prepares for responding to any outages that might stem from terrorist-related attacks on the electric grid.

 

Office of Fossil Energy

The Office of Fossil Energy (FE) is the federal government’s lead office for coal, natural gas, and oil exploration and development. The office oversees approximately 600 research and development projects ranging from development of zero-emissions power plants to energy facilities that efficiently transform coal, biomass, and other fuels into commercial products to new technologies that can extract oil from existing fields that currently is unreachable. The FE is also responsible for managing the country’s underground supply of oil to be used in case of emergencies, known as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and running three research labs that conduct fossil energy exploration.

 

Research

Office of Science

The Office of Science (OS) is one of the federal government’s largest distributors of research money for science exploration. As the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences, the office provides more than 40% of total funding in this area. It also oversees research programs in high-energy physics, nuclear physics, fusion energy sciences, basic energy sciences, biological and environmental sciences and computational science. In addition, the OS is the federal government’s largest single financial supporter of materials and chemical sciences, and it supports programs involving climate change, geophysics, genomics, life sciences, and science education. The OS operates six interdisciplinary program offices: Advanced Scientific Computing Research, Basic Energy Sciences, Biological and Environmental Research, Fusion Energy Sciences, High Energy Physics, and Nuclear Physics.

 

From the Web Site of the Department of Energy

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Where Does the Money Go

The Department of Energy (DOE) has spent more than $285.3 billion on contractors during this decade, according to USASpending.gov. More than 14,000 companies and public organizations, including some of the nation’s most prominent universities, defense contractors, and engineering firms, were paid by the department for services that largely dealt with the operating of research labs and nuclear facilities owned by the DOE.

 

Universities that run key research labs for the department’s Office of Science include Iowa State University (Ames Laboratory); Princeton University (Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory); Stanford University (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center); State University of New York (Brookhaven National Laboratory); University of Chicago (Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory); University of California (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory); University of Tennessee (Oak Ridge National Laboratory); and University of Wisconsin/Michigan State University (Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center).

 

Among defense contractors and engineering firms helping the DOE clean up the legacy of nuclear weapons production is Fluor, an international engineering and construction firm, which had a $9.5 billion contract to handle cleanup operations at Fernald, a former uranium processing facility in Ohio, and—from 1996 to 2008—a contract for work at the Hanford plutonium facility, which has been described as the most dangerous environmental project in the country because of the scope of the cleanup. Also performing work at Hanford are construction giants Bechtel (which has a stake in the Savannah River cleanup) and CH2M Hill, which is handling cleanup work (pdf) through 2015 at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory and is involved with work (pdf) at Savannah River.

 

Babcock & Wilcox, an engineering energy firm, has a $3.3 billion contract for Savannah River and another contract with Pantex, the nation’s central facility for assembling and dismantling nuclear warheads.

 

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin runs the United States Energy Corporation on behalf of the Department of Energy, responsible for the day-to-day operations at the two gaseous diffusion plants (GDPs) being dismantled and cleaned up under the guidance of DOE’s Office of Environmental Management (EM). Lockheed Martin also runs the Sandia National Laboratories for the DOE.

 

Battelle, an international science and technology firm, co-operates the Oak Ridge facility in conjunction with the University of Tennessee. Another prominent higher education stakeholder is the University of California, which was the sole manager of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California until 2007. Today, it manages the lab along with a consortium involving Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox, URS Corporation, and Battelle. Los Alamos National Security LLC, consisting of the University of California system, Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox, and URS Corporation, runs Los Alamos National Laboratory, the original home of the Manhattan Project.

 

The EM manages a cleanup project at the Nevada National Security Site, the nation’s primary testing ground for nuclear explosions from the 1950s until the 1990s. The site is managed by National Security Technologies LLC, a joint venture involving defense contractor Northrop Grumman, construction corporation AECOM, CH2M Hill, and Babcock & Wilcox.

 

The top five types of products or services purchased by the DOE during the past decade, according to USASpending.gov, were operation of government R&D facilities ($131,336,945,525), operation of government restoration ($16,513,451,131), operation of other government industrial buildings ($14,722,290,665), operation of production buildings ($14,011,786,278), and operation of miscellaneous government buildings ($10,859,115,284).

 

The five largest recipients of DOE contracts from 2003-2013 are as follows:

 

1. Lockheed Martin Corporation                                $27,085,565,243        

2. Bechtel Group Inc.                                                 $24,250,967,897        

3. State of California                                                  $20,595,782,263        

4. URS Corporation                                                    $18,944,043,278        

5. Los Alamos National Security LLC                       $17,353,702,916        

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Controversies:

DOE Chief Creates Controversy Favoring Fracking

President Barack Obama’s candidate to lead the Department of Energy (DOE) during his second term produced criticism from environmentalists and others opposed to hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking).

 

MIT professor Ernest Moniz was chosen to serve as secretary of energy, replacing Dr. Steven Chu. Critics of the decision said Moniz represented a threat to Obama’s promise to address the man-made causes of global warming, due to the physicist’s support for fracking. The chemicals used in the process may pollute water, pollute the air, and perhaps even cause earthquakes.

 

“Mr. Moniz is affiliated with the industry-backed MIT Energy Initiative, so we shouldn’t be surprised about his favorable position on fracking,” Mitch Jones from Food & Water Watch told Common Dreams. “But President Obama could do a lot better.”

 

For Moniz, fracking was a great development because of its capacity to help expand natural gas drilling, which the professor considered a “clean energy” in comparison to greenhouse gas emitters like coal.

 

Critics also pointed out that Moniz was cozy with the “old energy” industry, citing his place on the boards of directors of or as an adviser to several energy and security companies, including enriched-uranium company USEC (2002-2004), BP (2005-2011), and General Electric (since 2006).

Obama's Possible Frack-Friendly Energy Plan a 'Nail in the Coffin' for Climate (by Jon Queally, Common Dreams)

Secretary of Energy: Who Is Ernest Moniz? (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

A Tutor for Cuomo (New York Daily News)

 

Backdoor Shipment Planned for Nuclear Waste from Tennessee to Nevada

Political leaders in Nevada objected to a 2013 plan by the DOE to ship old nuclear waste from Tennessee to the state for storage.

 

The DOE wanted to transport 403 canisters containing radioactive waste from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to the Nevada National Security Site, where it would be buried in a desert landfill underneath another layer of radioactive waste.

 

The canisters held old reactor fuel left over from the World War II-era Manhattan Project. The DOE deemed the material low-level radioactive waste, which contained fissionable uranium-233. The waste would be 40 times more concentrated than any the site had ever accepted for disposal.

 

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval objected to the shipment, as did U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nevada). Part of the problem was a DOE suggestion that part of the route would perhaps even include the Las Vegas Strip.

 

In a letter addressed to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Sandoval wrote that the plan posed a danger to workers and provided a potential source for a “dirty bomb.” The governor also said the proposal failed to address the concerns of local governments and Native American tribes.

DOE Slow to Respond to Nevada Lawmakers’ Nuclear Waste Concerns (by Andrew Doughman, Las Vegas Sun)

Titus Demands Answers on Nuclear Waste Routes Through Las Vegas Valley (by Andrew Doughman, Las Vegas Sun)

More Productive Talks, No Resolution on Planned Nuclear Waste Shipment (by Andrew Doughman, Las Vegas Sun)

 

DOE on the Hook for Fines if Cleanup Deadlines Aren’t Met

Federal budget cuts in 2013 threatened to slow down cleanup operations at a Cold War-era nuclear facility in South Carolina, prompting state officials to offer their own threat of hefty fines against the agency overseeing the work.

 

The head of South Carolina’s environmental protection agency warned the DOE not to drag its feet on scheduled cleanup operations at the Savannah River Site (SRS), which holds 37 million gallons of high-level, radioactive waste in 49 underground tanks that are 50 or 60 years old.

 

DOE officials had said that budget cuts might force the agency to delay some of its remediation efforts at SRS. That may mean missing some 30 milestones on the cleanup timetable.

 

But Catherine Templeton, director of the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control, announced that any delays would result in fines of $105,000 day. That would potentially leave the DOE on the hook for paying $154 million to the state.

Savannah River Site: Keep the Promises (Savannah Morning News)

DOE Budget Cuts to SRS Could Result in Huge Fines, Environmental Risks (by Lauren Walsh, WAGT)

 

U.S. Plans to Export Fracking Gas

The controversial drilling method of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has performed so well in the United States that companies began talking in 2013 of exporting some of their excess supply of natural gas.

 

But such a move could result in higher gas prices in the U.S., not to mention more fracking operations that threaten to pollute the environment.

 

In Louisiana, Cheniere Energy’s $10-billion Sabine Pass natural gas terminal originally built to import natural gas was being converted to facilitate the shipping of fracking-produced gas to Great Britain. Initial shipments were scheduled for 2015, with nearly 20 tons of natural gas to be transported per year.

 

Companies such as Exxon Mobil and Sempra Energy asked the Obama administration for permission to export as much as 29 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day.

 

These efforts represented a turnaround for the industry. Less than a decade ago, domestic production of natural gas was so low that facilities were being built in U.S. ports to import foreign natural gas. But the fracking revolution produced an abundance of natural gas, causing the price to drop to around $4 per million BTU (British Thermal Unit).

 

This may be good news for gas companies, but it’s not necessarily good for U.S. consumers or the environment. Consumer groups and some manufacturers that use natural gas opposes expanded exports, claiming the exports could drive up domestic prices and make manufacturing more expensive.

 

Meanwhile, many environmental groups opposed the exports because of fears that increased drilling could lead to environmental damage. Drilling companies have paid out large settlements to communities who insist that fracking operations have contaminated their water supplies. There is also evidence of a link between fracking-related injection wells and the onset of earthquakes.

U.S. Will Begin Exporting Its “Fracked” Gas (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

DOE Gives Green Light To Controversial Natural Gas Export Project (by Zack Colman, The Hill)

Wyden Highlights Flaws in DOE Export Study (Senator Ron Wyden)

The Perplexing Debate Over LNG Exports (by David Blackmon, Forbes)

 

Nepotism at DOE

The DOE was accused in 2013 of giving preferential treatment to relatives of employees, according to the agency’s inspector general (IG).

 

The IG report said nepotism within the department had become an “open and widely accepted” practice.

 

“Despite the Department’s ethics program and information regarding prohibited personnel practices, advocating for the selection of relatives appears to have become an open and widely accepted Departmental practice,” the report stated.

 

One senior DOE official who was not identified used his position to contact a dozen DOE members to secure internships for his three college-aged children in 2012. He had also enrolled them in training programs paid for by the DOE. The official also didn’t see anything wrong with what he had done, saying it was commonplace and that others in the department had acted similarly.

Report Finds Nepotism Alive and Well at Department of Energy (Fox News)

Report: Nepotism Is an ‘Open and Widely Accepted’ Practice at the Energy Department (by Michael Bastasch, Daily Caller)

Senior Energy Dept. Official Caught Trying to Use Position to Secure Work for His Children (by Becket Adams, Blaze)

 

Savannah River Site Fails Security Test

The DOE decided in early 2013 to test the security at a key nuclear weapons facility in South Carolina, and found the protection was far from adequate.

 

DOE specialists posing as terrorists carried out a mock assault on the Savannah River Site, which stores large volumes of nuclear material and reactor waste.

 

Plant security provided by a government contractor failed to prevent the “terrorists” from reaching a key part of the facility and gaining access to fake bomb material.

 

Other bad news regarding the testing included a decision by the DOE to halt one exercise because a shift change resulted in workers wandering through the area. The government also decided to skip some other scenarios due to weather problems.

Nuclear Site Unable to Protect Bomb Material in Recent Tests (Project on Government Oversight)

Mock Terrorists Reach Nuclear Bomb Material in U.S. Facility Drill (Global Security Newswire)

SRS Fails Security Force Test (by Derrek Asberry, Aiken Standard)

 

DOE and Pennsylvania Contradictory Fracking Studies

The DOE declared in a 2013 report that there was no evidence of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) chemicals contaminating aquifers in western Pennsylvania.

 

DOE researchers spent a year monitoring underground water supplies. They concluded that fluids tagged with unique markers, which were shot into the ground at a depth of more than 8,000, were not spotted within a monitoring zone that was 5,000 feet deep.

 

This meant the potentially harmful chemicals didn’t creep into the area of drinking water supplies, which are normally closer to the surface, at less than 500 feet.

 

The agency said the study was still ongoing, and did not represent a final assessment on the use of fracking or its potential impact on local environments.

 

About a week after the DOE released its report, news surfaced that another federal agency had sat on evidence of fracking-related water pollution in Pennsylvania.

 

A field office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) produced a PowerPoint presentation revealing that EPA on-site staff members in Dimock had informed their Washington superiors that several wells had been contaminated with methane, manganese, and arsenic, and that gas drilling was the likely culprit.

 

The internal assessment contradicted EPA’s official position, released in July 2012, that the drinking water in Dimock was not tainted by natural gas extraction resulting from fracking and that it was safe to drink.

DOE Study: Fracking Chemicals Didn’t Taint Water (by Kevin Begos, Before It’s News)

Internal EPA Report Conflicts with Agency’s Stance on Fracking Contamination in Pennsylvania Town (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Exclusive: Censored EPA PA Fracking Water Contamination Presentation Published (by Steve Horn, Huffington Post)

EPA Official Links Fracking and Drinking Water Issues in Dimock, Pa. (by Mark Drajem, Washington Post)

 

 

Overworked Guard Dogs Put Tennessee Nuclear Facility at Risk

A key nuclear weapons facility operated by the Department of Energy (DOE) was faulted in May 2013 for using tired and poorly trained guard dogs to protect important operations.

 

The DOE’s inspector general said the handling of security canines at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee needed improvement in order to ensure the protection of the facility and the bomb-grade uranium stored there.

 

“We found that half of the canine teams we observed failed explosive detection tests, many canines failed to respond to at least one of the handler’s commands, and that canines did not receive all required training,” the report stated.

 

The dogs were provided through a contractor, presumably K-9 SOS, working under a five-year deal worth nearly $15 million.

 

The inspector general’s office said there had been claims the contactor had “rigged” proficiency tests for the dogs. But it was unable to confirm these accusations. Auditors did confirm claims that the dogs were overworked and not given enough rest between shifts, especially on hot days. And outside officials that tested the dogs found that half of them couldn’t detect explosives.

 

Y-12 has gotten into trouble before over security problems, including security personnel allegedly cheating on exams and an incident in 2012 when three peace activists breached the site’s perimeter and made it to a key uranium storage area.

Overworked Guard Dogs Put Tennessee Nuclear Facility at Risk (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Exhausted Guard Dogs Leave Nuclear Arms Site Vulnerable (LAPA Canine)

Tired, Poorly Trained Guard Dogs Could Endanger Nuclear Arms Site (by Diane Barnes, Global Security Newswire)

 

Security at Nuclear Weapons Sites Lagging

After the 9/11 attacks, the DOE changed its procedures and protocol for how the department prepares for a potential terrorist attack against the nation’s nuclear weapons facilities. In 2003, 2005, and 2006, Energy officials kept revising the “design basis threat” plan to better prepare for attacks. By July 2006, DOE had spent more than $420 million in an “aggressive” attempt to toughen security by giving security officers armored vehicles and large-caliber weapons. That same year, the DOE promised Congress that six of its 11 nuclear weapons sites would have upgraded security by 2008.

 

By the fall of 2007, the department was nowhere near meeting this deadline, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. Five of the six sites were still far from being ready to withstand a terrorist attack as defined by the design basis threat. The DOE said it had put off work because of plans to consolidate plutonium at many of the sites into centralized locations.

 

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts) at that time blasted the DOE for falling behind in its security preparations. “The department seems to think that the terrorist threat to its nuclear facilities is no more serious than a Halloween prank, as evidenced by its failure—more than six years after the 9/11 attacks—to do what it must to keep our stores of nuclear-weapons-grade materials secure,” Markey said in a statement.

 

Government auditors faulted the DOE and its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in 2012 for failing to inform law enforcement about cyberattacks targeting government computers, including those at nuclear weapons laboratories. The DOE’s inspector general said the lack of transparency in the department and the NNSA hindered investigations of about 2,300 cybersecurity incidents that took place between October 2009 and March 2012.

 

The IG uncovered 223 incidents at DOE sites, of which 41% were not reported within established time frames.

 

Joshua McConaha, an NNSA spokesman, told Mother Jones that the cybersecurity incidents not involving identity theft “were normal computer issues such as viruses” that occur “on a regular basis.” In fact, the agency asked to increase its cybersecurity budget by about $30 million in 2013, saying that the true number of attacks by hackers of all kinds, including automated bots trolling for vulnerabilities, may reach millions each day.

 

Security has been an issue for years at the Y-12 Oak Ridge nuclear plant in Tennessee. In 2008, seven security guards were caught sleeping on the job. Four years later at the site, security was breached when three activists, including an 82-year-old nun, cut through four perimeter fences and made their way to the wall of the building where highly enriched uranium is stored. The incident prompted a government and industry-wide re-examination of security measures.

 

Additional scandals have plagued the Tennessee plant, including discoveries that security personnel were caught cheating on exams, and that guard dogs were allowed insufficient rest and given improper training.

 

In 2013, DOE’s Office of Health, Safety and Security (HSS) performed security tests at all facilities that house bomb-grade nuclear material. The test at the Savannah River complex failed to protect the materials, and two other tests were halted due to weather and a worker shift change.

Security Upgrades at Several Nuclear Sites Are Lagging, Auditors Find (by Matthew L. Wald, New York Times)

GAO Report: Securing US Nuclear Material (pdf)

 

Obama Administration Invested Billions in Companies Supported by Energy Dept. Insiders

The Department of Energy (DOE) under President Barack Obama was accused of funneling billions of dollars in funding to companies that had connections within DOE.

 

An investigation by The Washington Post found that the Energy Department had approved nearly $4 billion in federal grants and financing to 21 companies supported by firms with connections to five Obama administration staffers and advisers.

 

Of this amount, $2.46 billion flowed to nine businesses with ties to VantagePoint Venture Partners, a venture capital firm where Sanjay Wagle, a DOE adviser, worked before coming to Washington.

 

The other four officials identified by the Post include Assistant Secretary David Sandalow, who previously worked for Good Energies, a company that received $737 million from the Energy Department; and Steve Westly, a longtime Silicon Valley entrepreneur who raised more than $1 million for the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and became a member of then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s advisory board. The Westly Group took in $600 million in federal financing.

 

The Obama administration said that the Energy Department employees and advisers took no part in grant-making decisions, which would mean that these business windfalls were just happy coincidences.

Obama Administration Invested Billions in Companies Supported by Energy Dept. Insiders (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Obama's Department Of Energy Is An Enormous Embarrassment (by Alex Biles, Business Insider)

President Obama’s Green Thumb Helps Grow Insider Trading, Not the Economy (by Katherine Rosario, Heritage Action for America)

 

Lawsuit Reveals Deficiencies

The NNSA released Performance Evaluation Reports (PER) three years after they were completed, long after decisions were made to renew lucrative contracts with private companies and long after the opportunity for oversight or input from the public.

 

Nuclear Watch New Mexico forced the NNSA to publish the reports after suing the agency.

 

As reported in a 2011 PER, the company handling work at Los Alamos National Laboratory—Los Alamos National Security LLC—did not “effectively manage” efforts in support of “NNSA strategic objectives,” a reference to the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility, a project plagued by overspending in the billions of dollars.

 

The 2012 PER described a situation in which onsite NNSA personnel suggested that Los Alamos National Security’s contract not be extended, but Neile Miller, the NNSA official in charge of awards, overrode the decision and the company was given a waiver extending its contract through 2018.

Nuclear Facilities Agency Releases Weapons Site Report…after being Sued (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

NNSA Defends Contract Extensions but Congressional Scrutiny Expected (by Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire)

New Program Review and Analysis Office to Improve NNSA’s Budgeting and Planning Capabilities, Increase Accountability (National Nuclear Security Administration)

 

Leasing Land for Uranium and Mining Continues

The U.S. DOE decided in spring 2013 to resume leasing federal land for uranium exploration and mining, which environmentalists opposed.

 

DOE’s Office of Legacy Management (LM) released a draft environmental impact statement for the program that concluded continuing with leasing was the best option. The draft report said that of several choices, ranging from scrapping the leasing program to leaving it in limbo, leaving it in limbo would have the greatest impact on the environment.

 

“It is assumed that there would be a total of 19 mines operating at various production rates at the same time,” during what might be considered a peak year of operations, the draft stated. The DOE has 29 leased tracts of land in three Colorado counties alone.

 

Not waiting for the DOE report, Energy Fuels Resources, with mining operations in Colorado, tried to restart work at a uranium mine about six miles from the Grand Canyon by going through the U.S. Forest Service. That prompted the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, and the Havasupai Tribe to file lawsuits against the Forest Service to stop the company from resuming uranium-mining operations at Arizona’s Canyon Mine.

 

In 2012, the Department of the Interior had imposed a 20-year ban on uranium mining on federal lands. But Energy Fuel Resources claimed its operation had been grandfathered in and should be allowed to continue with its restart.

 

The company lost that legal battle when a federal judge rejected its argument that the ban should be overturned, ruling that Interior had the authority to protect the Grand Canyon’s watershed.

DOE proposes restart of controversial lease program (Manuel Quinones, E&E Publishing)

Environmentalist groups band together to stop uranium mining at Grand Canyon (by David Knowles, New York Daily News)

Judge Rejects Uranium Mining Industry Attempt to Repeal Ban on Grand Canyon Mining (Earth Justice)

Op-Ed: Gamma Rays and the Grand Canyon (by Kenneth Brower, National Geographic)

 

U.S. Unprepared for Nuclear Disaster

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) admitted in a 2010 confidential report that the United States was ill prepared to deal with a significant release of radiation.

 

That report, released on the heels of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear crisis in 2011, raised serious concerns about the lack of attention government officials had given to radiation threats, whether it stemmed from a terrorist attack (such as a “dirty bomb”) or a natural disaster impacting a power plant.

 

The DHS study found that the health system “can only handle a few radiation injuries at any one time” and that “there is no strategy for notifying the public in real time of recommendations on shelter or evacuation priorities.”

 

Compounding the lack of preparation was the fact that the federal government two years earlier ceased stockpiling potassium iodide, the best-known agent to counter radioactive iodine-induced thyroid cancer in young people.

 

In 2013, the Government Accountability Office released a report warning that in the event of an accident at a nuclear plant, panicking residents from outside the official evacuation zone around it might jam the roads and prevent others from escaping.

 

The report challenged a three-decade-old fundamental of emergency planning around American nuclear power plants: that preparations for evacuation should focus on people who live within 10 miles of the site.

Homeland Security Dept. Warns that U.S. is Unprepared for Nuclear Emergency (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Nuclear Evacuation Study Shows That Communities Outside 10-Mile Zone May Bog Down System (by Jeff Donn, Associated Press)

Panel recommends US customize nuclear power plant emergency plans (Associated Press)

Evacuation Zones for Nuclear Reactors (Physicians for Social Responsibility)

 

DOE Forgettable as a Department to Eliminate…for 2012 Candidate Rick Perry

The DOE, like it or not, became party to one of the biggest political gaffes of the 2012 Republican presidential primary competition.

 

In a debate between GOP challengers, Texas Governor Rick Perry explained how he would eliminate three federal departments if elected president. But Perry only got as far as naming two of them, then drew a blank on live television when trying to name the third.

 

“It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone—Commerce, Education and the um, what’s the third one there? Let’s see. . . . Commerce, Education and the um, um,” Perry said.

 

Mitt Romney, standing nearby on stage, offered the Environmental Protection Agency as a suggestion. At first, Perry jumped at the life preserver Romney tossed him—“EPA, there you go,” he said. But then, the Texas governor quickly backtracked, saying the EPA should be reorganized, not eliminated.

 

The debate moderator prompted Perry again to name the third agency. But he couldn’t, and ended with an, “Oops.” It wasn’t until 15 minutes later, long after the candidates had moved on to other subjects, that it finally hit him.

 

“By the way, it was the Department of Energy I was talking about,” Perry blurted.

 

Following the conclusion of the debate, Perry told reporters he really “stepped in it” by forgetting the DOE.

 

“Speaking of boots, I’m glad I had my boots on tonight because I sure stepped in it out there,” Perry joked. “I stepped in it. Man, yeah it was embarrassing. Of course it was.”

Rick Perry’s Debate Lapse: ‘Oops’ – Can’t Remember Department of Energy (by Arlette Saenz and Emily Friedman, ABC News)

Rick Perry Forgets Which Three Agencies He Would Eliminate As President (by Amanda Terkel, Huffington Post)

What do the Departments of Commerce, Education and Energy Think of Rick Perry's Plan? (by Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post)

 

Los Alamos Loses Computers

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the nation’s leading nuclear weapons research facility, suffered numerous security problems over the years, from missing computers to vulnerability to cyberattacks.

 

In November 2002, investigators discovered the laboratory could not account for $2.7 million in computers and equipment as well as thousands of dollars in questionable credit card transactions (including a Mustang, jewelry, and casino cash advances). As a result of the problems, director John Browne resigned in January 2003.

 

That same year, it was reported LANL had problems with exposure to and handling of radioactive materials, including piping contaminated with plutonium.

 

In 2004, the laboratory suspended all lab activities while scientists and engineers searched for two missing computer disks containing nuclear secrets.

 

Then, five years later, LANL officials feared they had lost 2.2 pounds of plutonium. A review of records revealed that statisticians at the lab had miscalculated the amount of plutonium at its facility and that none was actually missing.

 

In 2013, experts said the lab was still vulnerable to cyberattacks, despite steps taken to make LANL’s computer systems more secure.

Los Alamos' security flaws exposed (by Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times)

Los Alamos shuts down due to scandal (Associated Press)

New NNSA Head Appointed Amid Controversy (by Christine Kucia, Arms Control Association)

Nuclear Lab Remains Vulnerable to Cyberstrikes: DOE Inspector General (by Chris Schneidmiller, Global Security Newswire)

 

Hanford Tanks Leaking

Within the Hanford Nuclear Reservation along the Columbia River in Washington State, six underground storage tanks were found to be leaking radioactive waste in 2013. Some of the tanks held as much as 500,000-750,000 gallons of dangerous fluid that was slowing seeping into the soil.

 

State and federal officials said the leaks didn’t pose an immediate threat to human health, since the tanks were located more than five miles from the Columbia River.

 

The newly discovered problem only added to the soil contamination at Hanford, which was used for five decades to produce plutonium for the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.

 

There were nearly 150 tanks, similar in size and design, to the six spilling radioactive liquid and sludge at the site. Four of the six tanks had leaked in the past and were supposed to have been stabilized in 2005. The news led the state’s governor, Jay Inslee, to wonder about the “integrity” of the other tanks.

 

The DOE reported that the tanks were leaking at a rate of up to 300 gallons per year.

 

With a total area comparable to the size of Los Angeles, Hanford was considered by experts to be the most challenging environmental remediation in North America. The nuclear site was built near the city of Hanford in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, the secret U.S. government research program that produced the first atomic bombs. Federal environmental regulators estimated the site contained more than 130 million cubic yards of radioactive soil, thanks in large part to the dumping of 475 billion gallons of contaminated wastewater into the ground during the Cold War.

 

Later that same year, it was reported that the contractor hired to clean the leaking tanks had admitted to committing fraud. The company, CH2M Hill Hanford Group Inc. (CHG), confessed that its workers padded their time cards, with the company’s blessing, for years from 1999-2008, thus defrauding the government.

 

CHG’s parent company, CH2M Hill Companies Ltd., agreed to pay $18.5 million for the wrongdoing, and commit another $500,000 toward improving the subsidiary’s accountability systems.

Hanford double-wall tank may be leaking ‘screaming hot’ N-waste (by Hal Bernton, Seattle Times)

6 tanks at Hanford nuclear site in Wash. leaking (CBS News)

Six Underground Tanks Leaking Nuclear Waste in Washington State (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

As Hanford Radioactive Leak Continues, Clean-Up Contractor Pays Fraud Penalty (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Plutonium Cleanup in Washington State Could Take Millennia (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

 

New Mexico Questions Taking Hanford Nuclear Waste

The DOE hoped in 2013 to move 3.1 million gallons of radioactive waste from its Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state to a waste disposal facility in New Mexico. But political leaders in New Mexico as well as environmental groups objected to the plan and called for public hearings into the matter.

 

The outcry resulted in New Mexico officials declining DOE’s request for quick approval of the proposal to transfer the radioactive waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad.

 

Instead, the New Mexico Environment Department planned to hold public hearings before any decisions were made.

 

U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) said WIPP specifically prohibited waste from Hanford. He added that any proposal to modify permit language in this case would need “strong justification and public input.”

NM to hold public hearings on Hanford waste move to WIPP (Associated Press)

Hanford Nuclear Waste May Be Shipped From Washington To New Mexico, Officials Say (by Shannon Dininny, Associated Press)

 

U.S. Nuclear Reactors Have Unfixable Problems

The former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) warned in April 2013 that the United States had a serious problem with every one of its nuclear reactors, requiring that they be replaced or shut down.

 

The issue raised by Dr. Gregory B. Jaczko echoed those expressed by anti-nuclear groups. But it was unusual for an ex-NRC chairman to raise such alarm impacting all 104 nuclear reactors in the country.

 

Jaczko said the safety problems couldn’t be fixed, which means either replacing the reactors or closing them down permanently. Indeed, by July four U.S. nuclear plants had been taken offline.

 

While speaking before the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington, Jaczko admitted it would not be practical to close down all the plants at once. A gradual phase out would instead make sense, he added, saying he does not support extending the life of reactors—many of which already are operating long past their original expiration.

 

When asked why he spoke out after his stint at the NRC, Jaczko said: “I was just thinking about the issues more, and watching as the industry and the regulators and the whole nuclear safety community continues to try to figure out how to address these very, very difficult problems,” he said, according to Matthew Wald writing for The New York Times. Those troubles became more evident to Jaczko after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, “Continuing to put Band-Aid on Band-Aid is not going to fix the problem.”

 

Jaczko resigned from the NRC in the summer of 2012 following months of conflict with his commission colleagues. He was often in the minority as he voted for more stringent safety regulations, earning him distrust within the nuclear industry.

All U.S. Nuclear Reactors Have Unfixable Safety Problems, Warns Former NRC Chairman (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Ex-Regulator Says Reactors Are Flawed (by Matthew Wald, New York Times)

Nuclear Plants, Old and Uncompetitive, Are Closing Earlier Than Expected (by Matthew Wald, New York Times)

Nuclear Power in the USA (World Nuclear Association)

 

Y-12 Nuclear Lab Vandalized

Three peace activists, including an elderly Roman Catholic nun, trespassed onto a leading nuclear weapons facility in the summer of 2012, embarrassing the NNSA, which is charged with managing the facility.

 

On July 28, 2012, Sister Megan Rice, 82, Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, and Michael Walli, 63, entered the sprawling grounds of the Oak Ridge Y-12 nuclear weapons production facility in Tennessee.

 

The three activists managed to cut through not one, not two, not three, but four fences and reach the uranium enrichment facility on foot before one of the plant’s security guards, Kirk Garland, finally detected the unlawful entry and arrested them. Garland was subsequently fired. The government pays $1.2 billion for security at Oak Ridge every year. WSI Oak Ridge is a subsidiary of the international security firm G4S, which was taken to task for failing to provide enough security personnel for the London Olympic Games in 2012.

 

Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli were not armed. They carried Bibles, peace banners, flowers, and spray paint, which was used to put up peace messages.

 

A couple days after their apprehension, the three were arraigned in court and charged with federal trespassing, which is a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail.

 

Their feat raised serious questions about the NNSA’s ability to protect such an important facility. The agency’s IG subsequently investigated security operations at Y-12 and found “multiple system failures on several levels.”

 

The IG also said the breach by the three activists should serve as a “wake-up” call for the Energy Department to do something about improving the security at the uranium facility.

 

In the months after the incident, the Obama administration decided to elevate the charges against Rice and the others.

 

The defendants went from facing upward of a year in prison to six years, then 16 years, and finally 30 years. Eventually the Justice Department charged them with “aiding and abetting each other, with intent to injure, interfere with, and obstruct the national defense of the United States” and that they “did willfully injure, destroy and contaminate, and attempt to injure, destroy and contaminate national-defense premises, specifically, buildings and grounds of the Y-12 National Security Complex.”

 

In May 2013, the activists were tried and convicted on two counts: sabotaging the plant and damaging federal property. Their sentencing hearing was scheduled for September.

Y-12 vandalism suspects charged with sabotage (WBIR.com)

Y-12 Trial: Trio found guilty, judge schedules new hearing (by Eleanor Beck and John Henry, WBIR.com)

U.S. nuclear bomb facility shut after security breach (by Mark Hosenball, Reuters)

 

Pipeline Through New Jersey

Environmentalists and local residents of New Jersey were disappointed in 2012 when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company’s (Transco) Northeast Supply Link project.

 

The so-called Stanton Loop pipeline would add 6.64 miles of pipe running through private properties and across residential streets in Clinton, Union, and Franklin townships. It also would travel under Route 31, cut through the Highlands region at South Branch Reservation along the Raritan River and Cramer’s Creek Park in Clinton Township and go underneath the Raritan River, which supplies drinking water to a million people.

 

Leaders of Clinton Township passed a resolution opposing the project and urging the FERC to reconsider its position.

 

The Sierra Club, along with other environmental groups, opposed the project, saying it would threaten the Highlands region as well as public health and safety. Yet work on the pipeline extension began in 2013.

 

In May, a gas ignition and minor explosion injured 13 workers constructing a section of the pipeline. Two workers were seriously hurt and hospitalized. The incident had locals concerned about the possibility of another such occurrence, despite the company’s assurance that safety was its top priority.

Controversial Transco pipeline is approved; will run through parts of Hunterdon County (Hunterdon Review)

Gas pipeline connections start on Transco expansion, visible from Route 513 in Hunterdon County (by Renée Kiriluk-Hill, Hunterdon Democrat)

Branchburg residents, officials voicing concerns about safety following gas pipeline explosion that injured 13 workers (My Central Jersey)

 

FERC/JP Morgan Controversy

The FERC suspended the electric market-based rate authority of J.P. Morgan Ventures Energy Corp. in November 2012 for submitting false information to the Commission.

 

The suspension banned J.P. Morgan Ventures from selling power at market-based rates for six months effective April 1, 2013.

 

FERC officials said J.P. Morgan Ventures made factual misrepresentations and omitted material information over the course of several months of communications with the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) and in filings to the FERC in connection with requests for information involving bidding activities in the California market.

 

JPMorgan previously denied manipulating the market and said it had committed an “inadvertent factual error in papers related to discovery and promptly informed the commission of this mistake.”

 

FERC became involved after CAISO, which runs the state’s electrical transmission grid, complained in 2011 about the banking giant. It was taking advantage of loopholes in trading rules. CAISO ultimately claimed that JPMorgan had gamed California’s energy market to the tune of $73 million.

Obama Administration Threatens to Pull Plug on JPMorgan Trading in Energy Market (by Ken Broder, AllGov.com)

Attorney-client privilege claim backfires on JPMorgan in FERC case (by Alison Frankel, Thomson Reuters)

FERC probes JPMorgan over electricity charges (by Katarzyna Klimasinska, San Francisco Chronicle)

 

FERC Takes on Wall Street

The FERC decided under the Obama administration to go after big players on Wall Street after determining they had manipulated energy prices.

 

FERC regulators, expanding their focus on energy traders in the aftermath of the Enron scandal, targeted JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, and Barclays.

 

In the case of Barclays, the Commission demanded the British bank pay $470 million in fines for illegal trades, which the FERC called a manipulative scheme, involving energy stocks.

 

JPMorgan Chase was pursued over potential manipulation of energy markets in California and the Midwest.

FERC Takes Aim at Wall Street (by Ben Protess and Michael De La Merced, New York Times)

U.S. power market regulator seeks $470 million from Barclays (by Scott DiSavino and Karey Wutkowski, Reuters)

FERC backs record market manipulation fine on Barclays (Reuters)

FERC takes aim at Barclays over power market manipulation (by Scott DiSavino and Eileen O’Grady, Reuters)

 

Proposal to Remove Nuclear Weapons Oversight from DOE

Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, proposed in 2012 to remove the DOE oversight authority of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex, which is managed by the NNSA. Turner proposed that the NNSA take on these duties.

 

Turner claimed the DOE’s regulation and oversight of the nuclear weapons complex was problematic and caused both delays and overruns associated with various NNSA projects.

 

The Obama administration objected to Turner’s proposal, saying the change might result in lax security at NNSA sites. In addition, some lawmakers rejected the idea, including the Republican and Democratic leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which also has jurisdiction over NNSA activities.

As Senate Action Looms, House Leaders Warn Against NNSA Reform Bill (by Douglas Guarino, Global Security Newswire)

Udall, Kyl Announce NNSA Reform in Defense Bill (Senator Tom Udall)

Congress Sends President Defense Authorization with NNSA Amendment (Senator Tom Udall)

S. 3254 (112th): National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (Govtrack.us)

 

Obama Redirects Some Energy Funds to the Pentagon

In the wake of the Solyndra controversy, the Obama administration sought to keep renewable energy initiatives going by pursuing them in the Department of Defense—a move that irked some conservatives.

 

President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget plan didn’t include big increases for wind and solar power through the Department of Energy, which was still smarting from the $535 million loan guarantee default by Solyndra, a manufacturer of solar panels and hardware.

 

So, officials sought increases in spending on alternative energy in the Defense Department, such as programs to replace traditional jet fuel with biofuels, supply troops on the front lines with solar-powered electronic equipment, build hybrid-engine tanks and aircraft carriers, and increase renewable-energy use on military bases.

 

Republicans in Congress weren’t pleased with the idea, claiming the Pentagon’s efforts to move to renewable energy were more about politics than they were about saving lives and boosting security.

 

“Obama is hiding new renewable energy bets at the Pentagon, charging our Defense Department with major investments in ‘low-emissions economic development’ while cutting their budget by $5.1 billion,” Catrina Rorke wrote in a blog post for American Action Forum. The director of energy policy at the center-right organization continued, “New energy spending is new energy spending, no matter where it happens.”

Military's alt energy programs draw Republicans' ire (Annie Snider, Environment & Energy Daily)

White House Budget to Expand Clean-Energy Programs Through Pentagon (by Coral Davenport, National Journal)

 

Cleanup Safety Risks Underplayed

The cleanup project at the Hanford nuclear fuel factory in Washington state became embroiled in controversy in 2011 when Bechtel National Inc., the company in charge of the operation, was accused of underplaying safety risks at the toxic site.

 

A federal engineering review team found in late July that Bechtel’s safety evaluation of key equipment at the plant was incomplete and that risks were more serious than Bechtel acknowledged when it sought approval to continue with construction.

 

The Department of Energy, which oversees Hanford, asserted that Bechtel failed to do its job properly while implementing the tasks of removing radioactive soil and man-made materials. Some workers turned into whistleblowers to draw attention to scientific assessments that had been dismissed and managers who had allegedly abused their power. Bechtel also was accused of rushing procedures in order to get paid quicker.

 

The following year, a local watchdog organization, Hanford Challenge, released a DOE memo urging the termination of the key duties of Bechtel.

 

The document reportedly listed numerous problems with Bechtel’s work and questioned whether it should continue its role at Hanford.

 

Once a cornerstone of America’s nuclear weapons production, Hanford has become a colossal cleanup project that has dragged on for decades, costing billions of dollars (at least 250% over budget) and sparking controversy between the federal government and the company in charge of the reclamation.

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the Hanford site contains more than 130 million cubic yards of radioactive soil, thanks in large part to the dumping of 475 billion gallons of contaminated wastewater into the ground during the Cold War.

Safety doubts raised at U.S. nuclear waste cleanup project (by Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times)

Energy Dept. Accuses Bechtel of Botching Nuclear Cleanup in Washington (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Government Memo Slams Bechtel for Malfeasance, Safety Violations at Hanford Nuclear Site (Alliance for Nuclear Accountability)

 

Republicans Go on the Warpath Against Clean Energy

Following the controversy over the Solyndra loan from the U.S. Department of Energy, Republicans in the U.S. House and on the presidential trail went after the Obama administration’s clean energy initiatives, calling for budget reductions and program eliminations.

 

In June 2012, House Republicans adopted 13 provisions designed to cut off Energy Department financing for existing clean energy and efficiency programs.

 

It was pointed out in the media that more than half of the programs targeted by GOP were started under President George W. Bush, and some even earlier than that. They ranged from wind technology supports to mandates for zero-carbon buildings, LED light bulbs, and electric golf carts.

 

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney falsely claimed “about half” of the clean-energy companies that received government-backed loans “have gone out of business.”

 

The remark echoed the failure of Solyndra, maker of solar panels and other hardware, which received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Energy Department. It was highly touted by the Obama administration as an example of clean technology that the government should support. However, the company wound up going bankrupt, setting off accusations that the Energy Department ignored warning signs at Solyndra before approving the loan guarantee.

Clean Energy Cons: Dozens of Republicans Asked for Clean Energy Grants and Subsidized Loans Before Attacking Them (Lee Fang, Climate Progress)

In House Bill, Clean Energy on the GOP Chopping Block 13 Times (by Maria Gallucci, Inside Climate News)

Romney’s Clean Energy Whoppers (FactCheck.org)

Solyndra (Wikipedia)

 

DOE: Advocate for Fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing might not have become so successful for industry if it wasn’t for help from the DOE.

 

Gas companies and free-marketers have claimed hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, developed into a moneymaking opportunity without government interference. But some who pioneered the drilling technique admit that if it weren’t for Congress and the DOE, the business wouldn’t be where it is today.

 

“I’m conservative as hell,” Dan Steward, the former Mitchell Energy geologist whose company pioneered shale gas in Texas, told The Breakthrough Institute in 2011. “They [the government] did a hell of a lot of work, and I can’t give them enough credit for that. [The Department of Energy] started it, and other people took the ball and ran with it. You cannot diminish DOE’s involvement.”

 

Washington contributed more than $100 million in research to develop fracking, as well as billions of dollars more in tax breaks.

 

The DOE began funding research into fracking and horizontal drilling in 1975, and five years later, lawmakers approved an important tax break to encourage “unconventional” natural gas drilling. Among the most important government contributions, in what is called “advocacy-based science,” was the development by government scientists of micro-seismic (3D) mapping, which is known in the industry as “frack mapping.”

'Fracking': Did Energy Department Report Clear Up Controversy? (by Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor)

Department of Energy Wades into Fracking Debate (by Joel Kirkland, ClimateWire)

Development of Fracking Helped by Government Funding and Tax Breaks (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

 

Noncompetition for Site Cleanup Contracts

Nearly half of the $16 billion in contracts awarded by the federal government in President Barack Obama’s first year in office were noncompetitive, non-fixed-price deals.

 

A spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said $7.8 billion was awarded without bidding and specified price because many of these contracts were from the Department of Energy for environmental management and clean up.

 

For instance, $1.27 billion was given to Savannah River Nuclear Solutions LLC to clean up the former uranium production site in South Carolina for nuclear weapons. CH2M Hill received $1.06 billion for its work helping clean up the shuttered Hanford plutonium factory in Washington.

 

The OMB was later able to report that contracts awarded without competition dropped 10% during the first half of fiscal year 2010, compared to the same period in 2009. Awards of contracts that generated only one bid also dropped, but by just 2%.

Half of stimulus contract spending falls into risky categories (by Elizabeth Newell Jochum, Government Executive)

Use of non-compete contracts drops (by Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post)

Half of Stimulus Dollars Awarded without Competition or Fixed Price (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

 

Worldwide, Fossil Fuel Wins Out over Renewable Energy in Subsidies

The gas and oil industry as of 2010 received considerably more subsidies from the world’s governments than those provided to renewable energy sources.

 

A report from the International Energy Agency showed nations spent $409 billion on subsidizing the production and consumption of fossil fuels, while solar, wind, and biofuels received only $66 billion.

 

Coal companies alone outpaced alternative energy providers, enjoying $91 billion in subsidies. Big Oil received $193 billion in government support.

 

Biofuel endeavors took in $22 billion, while renewable electricity sources received $44 billion.

 

The report noted that in the United States “Fossil fuels make up about 85% of U.S. primary energy supply, a relatively high share by OECD standards. Oil is the leading fuel, accounting for 37% of supply, followed by natural gas (25%) and coal (22%). Nuclear power contributes a further 1%, with renewables—mainly biomass—making up the remaining 5%. . . . Oil and gas production is fully in the hands of private enterprises, even though about four-fifths of the country’s recoverable resources are on federal land or in federally controlled offshore waters.”

Government Subsidies of Fossil Fuels Outdo Renewable Subsidies 6 to 1 (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

IMF: Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies Could Cut CO2 13% (Environmental Leader)

Energy Subsidies Favor Fossil Fuels Over Renewables (Environmental Law Institute)

Obama budget trades fossil fuel subsidies for more money to green energy (by Michael Bastasch, Daily Caller)

Energy Subsidies Black, Not Green (Environmental Law Institute)

 

 

Fiscal Cliff Causes Controversy for Nuclear Arsenal

When Republicans in Congress and President Barack Obama averted the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the end of 2012, a provision was hidden within the legislation that impacted the status of nuclear arms reductions between the U.S. and Russia.

 

The controversy began when House Republicans added language to another bill, the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which could “impede the fulfillment of future U.S. obligations agreed” to the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement, according to the White House.

 

The NDAA section in question required that, before carrying out “any reduction to the number of strategic delivery systems,” such as required under New START, the President had to certify “that the Russian Federation is in compliance with its arms control obligations with the United States and is not engaged in activity in violation of, or inconsistent with, such obligations [italics added].”

 

Obama objected to the word “that,” and so lawmakers included an amendment in the fiscal-cliff bill that changed the wording in the NDAA to “whether.”

 

Now, Obama needed to only certify “whether” Russia was in compliance with the New START. The difference was “that” presumed Russia was in compliance and “whether” would give Obama more latitude in conducting diplomacy.

 

Tom Z. Collina and Daryl G. Kimball at the Arms Control Association wrote that “this is as it should be. The last thing we should do is to take a successful treaty like New START—which is verifiably reducing Russian nuclear arms that would otherwise be aimed at the United States—and hold it hostage to longstanding disagreements with Russia on other issues.”

Tea party backers swallow a bitter pill in ‘cliff’ bill (by David A. Fahrenthold, Rosalind S. Helderman and Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post)

What the Fiscal-Cliff Deal Means for Russian Nukes (by Elaine M. Grossman, National Journal)

New START Almost Goes Over the Cliff (by Tom Z. Collina and Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Association)

 

Nonexplosive Nuclear Tests Cause Controversy

The NNSA secretly tested the survivability of warhead plutonium several times during the Obama administration, provoking complaints from anti-nuclear groups in Japan.

 

Using what’s called a “Z Machine,” NNSA scientists exposed a plutonium cache to an intense bombardment of X-rays, in an effort to mimic the fusion reactions of nuclear warheads. The test allows for the study of plutonium reactions under high pressure and heat levels similar to those occurring from a detonated nuclear bomb, according to the NNSA.

 

Following Z tests conducted in June and August 2012, two Japanese Hiroshima-based organizations publicly criticized the agency and the U.S. government.

 

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum said the test was on par with that of an actual nuclear weapons test—something the U.S. has vowed to no longer conduct.

 

Another nonprofit, the Mayors for Peace, representing 5,400 cities, said in a letter that the tests demonstrated a total lack of U.S. interest in nuclear abolition and the intention of the U.S. to “cling to its nuclear stockpile.”

NNSA Keeps Conducting 'Nuclear Tests' and Mentioning Them Well After the Fact (by Andrew Kishner, NuclearCrimes.org)

Fourth U.S. Nonexplosive Plutonium Test Reported (Global Security Newswire)

 

Cybersecurity Incidents

Government auditors faulted the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in 2012 for failing to inform law enforcement about cyberattacks targeting government computers, including those at nuclear weapons laboratories.

 

The DOE’s inspector general said the lack of transparency by DOE and NNSA hindered investigations of about 2,300 cybersecurity incidents that took place between October 2009 and March 2012.

 

The failure to provide timely reporting put DOE’s “information systems and networks at increased risk,” according to the IG’s report.

 

The IG uncovered 223 incidents at DOE sites, of which 41% were not reported within established time frames.

 

Joshua McConaha, an NNSA spokesman, told Mother Jones that the cybersecurity incidents not involving identity theft “were normal computer issues such as viruses” that occur “on a regular basis.”

 

In fact, the agency asked to increase its cybersecurity budget by about $30 million in 2013, saying that the true number of attacks by hackers of all kinds, including automated bots trolling for vulnerabilities, may reach millions each day.

Are US Nuke Secrets Vulnerable to Cyberattack? (by Dana Liebelson, Mother Jones)

Auditors Blast DOE for "Fragmented" Cyber Attack Preparations (by Diane Barnes,

Global Security Newswire)

Follow-up Audit of the Department's Cyber Security Incident Management Program (U.S. Department of Energy Inspector General)

U.S. Nukes Face Up to 10 Million Cyber Attacks Daily (by Jason Koebler, U.S. News & World Report)

 

Number of New York Gas Leaks and Explosions Explodes

Natural gas pipeline leaks and explosions in New York City increased dramatically in 2011, increasing by 400% compared to the previous year, according to documents obtained by NaturalGasWatch.org.

 

The public advocacy group reported that the number of serious or significant gas pipeline incidents jumped from two in 2010 to eight in 2011. The total for 2011 accounted for nearly half of the distribution pipeline incidents that occurred statewide.

 

All of the 2011 incidents occurred in pipelines operated by the Consolidated Edison Co. of New York.

 

Federal records indicated the number of natural gas pipeline incidents that occurred in New York transmission pipelines doubled in total, from three incidents in 2010 to six incidents in 2011, and the number of incidents related to distribution pipelines more than tripled, from five in 2010 to 18 in 2011.

 

The natural gas watchdog estimates that hundreds of miles of the 5,000 miles of pipeline running under New York City are cast-iron pipes that are at least 100 years old.

Natural Gas Pipeline Incidents in NY Soared in 2011, Led By Alarming Increase in NYC Pipeline Failures (Natural Gas Watch)

 

Office of Science Involved in Scientific Misconduct

The DOE’s Office of Science was swept up in controversy when details from an unpublished report emerged in 2011 alleging researchers at a national laboratory were accused of scientific misconduct.

 

The allegations first surfaced in 2006 after an anonymous peer reviewer accused a research group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee of fabricating data in two manuscripts: a then-current submission to Nature Physics, which had not been published, and a paper that had been published in 1993 by the magazine Nature.

 

The ORNL group was headed by Stephen Pennycook, an electron microscopist who produced a landmark paper on atomic-scale imaging. Pennycook, a pioneer of such techniques, had been pushing the limits of spatial resolution in electron microscopy to solve problems in a variety of research areas, including materials sciences, nanotechnology, and condensed-matter physics.

 

That same year, Republican lawmakers challenged the Obama administration’s science czar over what they claimed were repeat incidents of “scientific misconduct” among agencies.

 

In a letter to John Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the GOP lawmakers, concerned that there was a trend developing, cited other controversies in recent years in which scientific findings were questioned or misinterpreted, covering topics ranging from a deepwater drilling moratorium to formaldehyde.

Misconduct oversight at the DOE: Investigation closed (by Eugenie Samuel Reich, Nature)

GOP Lawmakers Challenge White House on 'Scientific Misconduct' (Fox News)

Scientific Integrity Report Card (Department of Energy)

 

FERC Chief Says No New Coal or Nuclear Plants

Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), shocked many in the energy industry, and the Obama administration, when he remarked in 2009 that no new nuclear or coal plants might be needed in the United States.

 

“We may not need any, ever,” Wellinghoff told reporters at a U.S. Energy Association forum.

 

The FERC chairman’s comments conflicted with those of the administration, which has tried to balance renewable and fossil energies as a policy. The Obama administration had been hoping for a rebirth of nuclear power based on safer, progressive designs.

 

Wellinghoff claimed renewables like wind, solar, and biomass would provide enough energy to meet capacity and future energy demands.

 

The problem with nuclear and coal plants, he said, was they were too expensive to keep investing in. Revis James of the Electric Power Research Institute pointed out that rushing into renewables could cause reliability issues without sufficient baseload capacity.

Energy Regulatory Chief Says New Coal, Nuclear Plants May Be Unnecessary (by Noelle Straub and Peter Behr, Greenwire)

Smart Grid Heavy Hitters – Jon Wellinghoff, Chair of US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – part 1 (GreenMonk: The Blog)

 

Try Energy Efficiency before Renewable Energy

Much of the alternative energy debate has focused so much on investing in renewable sources that people have lost sight of the importance of energy efficiency.

 

In 2009, Jacob Arlein at Clean Techies makes the point that before homeowners and entrepreneurs jump into renewable energy, they first should make sure their homes and businesses are running efficiently as far as energy consumption is concerned.

 

“If your building wastes energy, you should prioritize improving this aspect and use the money that you had set aside for a renewable project to accomplish the task,” Arlein wrote.

 

After collecting enough savings from efficiency retrofits, an investor can implement a renewable energy-generation system, he adds.

 

“Let’s be honest, renewable generation doesn’t always make economic sense. This is why federal, state and local municipalities have set up generous rebate and tax credit systems to offset the costs. Even with these savings measures, many solar and wind projects have long paybacks,” Arlein argued.

 

Even with government rebates for renewable energy, it can take 10 to 15 years for someone to recoup their initial investment in the technology.

 

Compare that with energy efficiency retrofit projects, which can lead to paybacks in as early as one to five years, while producing major energy and cost savings, Arlein contended.

Energy Efficiency Versus Renewables: The Great Green Debate (by Jacob Arlein, Clean Techies)

Green Energy Investments Pay Off in the Long Run (by Christoph Stefes, U.S. News & World Report)

 

Lawrence Livermore Exercise Exposes Security Weakness

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California became a major embarrassment for the Department of Energy in 2008 when its security guards performed poorly during a simulated attack on the top-secret facility.

 

A commando team posing as terrorists attacked and infiltrated the lab’s perimeter and defenses, and was able to get to their “objective,” comprising a payload of simulated fissile material.

 

At the core of Livermore is the “Superblock,” a collection of buildings heavily protected to secure the lab’s store of 2,000 pounds of plutonium and weapons-grade uranium—enough fissile material that could be used to build at least 300 nuclear weapons.

 

The exercise reportedly exposed many major security inadequacies at Livermore, including the failure of a hydraulic system essential to shooting one of the high-powered Gatling machine guns that protect the facility.

Security Flaws Exposed at Nuke Lab (by Adam Zagorin, LANL: The Rest of the Story)

Despite Fire Threat to Los Alamos Lab, Plans Proceed for Plutonium Bomb Factory (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Ken Broder, AllGov)

Panel Pushes New Lab At LANL (by John Fleck, Journal North)

 

Battlement Mesa Fracking Controversy

Colorado residents complained to the LM in 2009 after natural gas companies sought permission to drill near the site of an old nuclear testing ground.

 

In 1969, the U.S. government detonated a nuclear weapon a few thousand feet underground near Battlement Mesa, in what was called Project Rulison. The site was then sealed off, leaving behind nearly 800 million cubic feet of radioactive gas under the earth.

 

Thirty-five years later, natural gas producers began drilling in the region, getting closer to the site of the 1969 blast. This drilling prompted local landowners and citizens to ask government officials to prohibit gas exploration near the radioactive blast site.

 

Some observers said the DOE and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission didn’t take the matter seriously, and were playing “Rulison Roulette” with the safety and health of the people of Battlement Mesa, the nearby town of Parachute, and the surrounding area.

The next squeeze of the trigger (by Duke Cox, ColoradoPols.com)

Garfield County commissioner still thinks DOE not doing its job (by John Colson, Post Independent)

 

Energy Secretary Kills FutureGen

Shortly after President George W. Bush announced in his 2008 State of the Union speech that he planned a big hike in energy research funding, the administration appeared ready to scuttle one of its most important initiatives: FutureGen. Lawmakers from Illinois were told by then-DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman that he was ready to pull the plug on the billion-dollar program that would have been a boon for downstate Illinois. Only a month earlier, energy officials announced that Mattoon, Illinois, won a battle with Texas to host FutureGen.

 

A DOE spokeswoman said soaring cost projections and technological advances had led the department to rethink the project. The president first embraced the concept of FutureGen in 2003 as an inventive approach to energy generation that would use abundant U.S. coal reserves but trap most of the pollution associated with the burning of coal. The idea was to marry two proven technologies to gasify coal and then bury greenhouse gases produced by the process deep within the earth.

 

During a meeting in Washington D.C., Bodman told the Illinois delegation that he planned to disband FutureGen and go “in another direction.” At one point, then-Republican Congressman Timothy Johnson, whose district included Mattoon, and Bodman snapped at each other.

 

The FutureGen project was to be one of the administration’s biggest energy research plums, rich with promise, as well as jobs and investment for the winning community. Plans called for it to be built by a consortium involving the DOE and coal and power companies, with 74% of the funding coming from taxpayers. Private sector partners in FutureGen announced the selection of Mattoon in December 2007, even though Bodman’s agency had urged a delay. Subsequently, the coal and power companies promised to pick up a bigger share of the project’s costs, leaving the administration still on the hook for the bulk of construction expenses.

 

Several communities bid to host the project, with the finalists coming down to Mattoon and nearby Tuscola, Illinois, and two cities in Texas. To some in Illinois, the battle evoked memories of the 1988 showdown over a $4 billion federally funded particle accelerator. One week after George H.W. Bush had been elected president, his home state of Texas was awarded the Superconducting Super Collider Project, triggering charges from the losing side that politics had trumped science. The project was beset by cost overruns and was never finished.

 

Following the decision by Bodman, U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) said he feared the scenario was playing out again with another Bush in the White House. “In 25 years on Capitol Hill, I have never witnessed such a cruel deception,” Durbin said. “When the city of Mattoon, Illinois, was chosen over possible locations in Texas, the secretary of energy set out to kill FutureGen.”

 

Surviving the end of the George W. Bush administration and carrying through the Obama administration, the project has since had a number of starts and stops due to funding issues. Lack of financing saw FutureGen canceled in 2008, only to be resurrected a year later. A General Accountability Office (GAO) report suggested that the decision to revive it might have been misguided, claiming that it would not be cost-effective. Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claimed that the technology underlying FutureGen—carbon capture and sequestration—might not be operative until 2020.

 

Nonetheless, the DOE decided to proceed with FutureGen. Financial backing for it was earmarked through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. In August 2010, the DOE cancelled plans to build the plant in Mattoon, and announced that it would move the project—now called FutureGen 2.0—to Meredosia, Illinois, where it would invest a billion dollars to retrofit a 64-year-old oil-burning plant and build a training center.

 

The DOE, partnered with the public interest organization FutureGen Alliance, has kept the enterprise on track. A billion dollars in funding from the Recovery Act was announced for the project in 2013, with construction set to begin in 2014 in order for the plant to become operational in 2017.

Energy Department backing out of Illinois-bound FutureGen project, officials say (by Bob Secter, Chicago Tribune)

FutureGen: A Brief History and Issues for Congress (by Peter Folger, Congressional Research Service) (pdf)

ComEd, Power Suppliers Vying to Halt FutureGen Financing Plan (by Steve Daniels, Chicago Business)

 

“Fogbank” Recipe Lost

Officials in the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) found themselves in a fog in 2007 over how to recreate a key component for nuclear warheads.

 

Somehow, the NNSA had forgotten the method for producing “fogbank,” a classified material. Outside experts suggested that fogbank was a type of exploding foam that resides between the fission and fusion portions of hydrogen bombs.

 

The Government Accountability Office reported that the NNSA spent a year and nearly $70 million trying to remake fogbank. It was unclear if the effort was successful.

 

Nuclear policy experts couldn’t believe the snafu. Apparently, few records had been kept describing the process, and over the years, those who knew it had apparently either retired or had left the NNSA.

 

“What the story ought to tell people is that the institutions that we’ve built to oversee development and maintenance of our nuclear weapons are incompetent,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the nuclear strategy and nonproliferation initiative at the New America Foundation, told Mother Jones.

Did America Forget How to Make the H-Bomb? (by Nick Baumann, Mother Jones)

Nuclear Weapons Journal (Los Alamos)

FOGBANK (Wikipedia)

 

Transmission Corridors

When Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a provision was included that allowed the federal government to force state, local and private landholders to sell property that was deemed necessary for the creation of new transmission lines and towers. The new electrical infrastructure helped form the National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors pushed by the George W. Bush administration to relieve congestion in key areas of the U.S. electric grid.

 

The administration’s plan was met with opposition from Democrats and Republicans, environmental groups, historical societies, and state and local governments. Traditionally, state, local, and regional governments have primarily determined the routes of power lines. But under the corridors plan, the federal government is able to bypass state and local opposition by allowing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)—not states—to be the final arbiter of where the lines are built. In October 2007, OE announced that the first two corridors would be built in the mid-Atlantic region that includes counties in eight states and the District of Colombia and a Southwest corridor that covers Southern California and parts of Arizona.

 

Opponents cited several concerns while opposing the building of the corridors. First, the new electrical towers would be sited through some of the most scenic and historic areas in the eastern half of the country. Officials from Virginia are concerned the mid-Atlantic corridor could impact 11 historic districts, one national historic landmark, 19 state or national historic sites, seven Civil War battlefields and the Appalachian Trail. Some of the most famous sites of the Civil War—Manassas, Antietam, and Gettysburg—lie within the Mid-Atlantic corridor.

 

The mid-Atlantic corridor would also undermine Northeast states’ efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by causing them to rely more on cheaper coal-fired power from the Midwest, rather than cleaner but higher-cost electric generators fired by natural gas.

National Electric Transmission Corridor Report and the Ordered National Corridor Designations

DOE Designates Southwest Area and Mid-Atlantic Area National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors

List of Counties and Cities Included in the Designated Corridors (pdf)

US Trumps States over Siting Power Lines (by Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor)

Mindlesser and Mindlesser (by Carl Pope, Huffington Post)

US Lists Places Where It Could Force New Power Lines (by Matthew L. Wald, New York Times)

National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors:  Will State Regulators Remain

Relevant? (by Erich W. Struble) (pdf)

Energy Corridors, Power Lines Threaten National Parkland (National Parks Conservation Association)

 

Yucca Mountain

The 20-year effort to establish a repository for burying the nation’s nuclear waste has produced no shortage of controversies. Issues have arisen over the vulnerability of the site to earthquakes and whether nuclear waste might seep into ground water supplies and be carried to the Colorado River, which supplies water to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and other major metropolitan areas.

 

In June 2002, President George W. Bush nominated Michael Corradini, a nuclear engineer from the University of Wisconsin who was an outspoken supporter of the nuclear power industry, to serve on an independent board of experts who oversee Yucca Mountain. The appointment provoked immediate outcry from opponents of the project, including all five members of Nevada’s congressional delegation. Corradini publicly endorsed Yucca Mountain, which the other members of the board had not done. Furthermore, Corradini continued to receive funding from the DOE for research on nuclear power even though he promised to stop. Corradini stepped down in January 2004.

 

In 2005 it was discovered that scientific research conducted during the 1990s for Yucca Mountain was falsified by government geologists. The controversy involved emails from three members of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) showing some data was fabricated related to water infiltration into Yucca Mountain tunnels. The revelation led to investigations by the FBI and the Inspector General for DOE and the Department of the Interior.

 

In April 2008, the Inspector General (IG) for the DOE reported that the department had hired a law firm with ties to nuclear power companies to represent the government’s effort to obtain a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to open Yucca Mountain. The firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, represented more than a dozen utilities suing the government for missing the 1998 deadline to take nuclear waste off industry hands.

 

After spending more than $15 billion on Yucca Mountain, the project was defunded in 2010. As of 2013, there are more than 200 challenges on file against the Yucca Mountain project, which could take four to five years to process. Robert Halstead, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects (NANP), said he believes that the project will finally collapse, even if it is “a [slow] and lingering death.”

 

Perhaps so, but in August 2013, the Yucca Mountain was revived when the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled, 2-1, that the NRC must resume consideration of the DOE’s site application that had been quashed by President Barack Obama. The court noted that the NRC has at least $11.1 million remaining for the work.

Law firm's Yucca pact with DOE criticized: Inspectors say agency ignored conflicts, documentation (by Steve Tetreault, Review Journal)

No Criminal Charges in Yucca Mountain Email Science Scandal (Environment News Service)

Chair of Key Nuclear Review Board Prompts Concerns About Objectivity on Yucca (Public Citizen)

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Debate:

Should the DOE continue to manage the NNSA?

Established in 1999 by Congress, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) was set up as a semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy (DOE) in the hope that this arrangement would provide the agency the freedom to fix lapses in security at the national weapons labs. The NNSA was charged with the maintenance and modernization of the nuclear warhead stockpile, the operation of research laboratories and nuclear and non-nuclear weapons production sites, and the management of nuclear non-proliferation activities and naval reactors.

 

But during the first decade of the 21st century, security problems continued at the nation’s nuclear labs. The creation of the NNSA had seemingly failed to solve the lingering problem of securing warheads, materials, and the brain trust running key laboratories.

 

Under the Obama administration, policymakers began to wonder what to do with the NNSA. Supporters of the agency contended that the problem resided within the DOE, and that Energy officials were getting in the way of the NNSA’s ability to properly manage the nuclear weapons complex. Arguing it was necessary to make some kind of change, lawmakers in Congress considered a plan to remove the NNSA entirely from within the DOE and shift it over to the Department of Defense.

 

Pro (Keep it in the DOE):

The idea of moving the NNSA to the Pentagon raised concerns among many civilian nuclear experts, who pointed to the beginning of the nation’s nuclear weapons program following World War II.

 

Many of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, which developed the world’s first nuclear bombs, argued for civilian control in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

 

“The scientists contended that atomic energy was too destructive and important to leave in the hands of the military,” Robert Alvarez wrote in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

“The secrecy inherent to the military, the scientists felt, would thwart scientific discovery and prove to be a major obstacle to international control and cooperation.”

 

Others objected to moving the NNSA out of the DOE by citing fears that the shift would ultimately lead to less oversight of the contractors hired by the NNSA to operate the weapons labs. This issued was raised in a fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill, in which the House called for restoring the Cold War management system known as “least interference,” which meant shifting the burden of safety, security, and financial compliance from the Energy Department to the contractors.

 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) described least interference as “an undocumented policy of blind faith in [government] contractors’ performance”—something opponents of the idea scoffed at.

Who should manage the nuclear weapons complex? (by Robert Alvarez, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists)

 

Con (Take it away from the DOE):

Critics of the DOE insist the department must be separated from the NNSA. Even with the current arrangement of the NNSA being a semi-autonomous agency, there were too many security, safety, and financial problems at the labs.

 

By the end of 2011, the Energy Department’s own inspector general (IG) concluded that NNSA management was fundamentally broken.

 

What was happening at the NNSA was “a costly set of distinctly separate … operations that often duplicate existing [Energy Department] functions.”

 

The IG called for the government to establish a process to close and consolidate Energy Department labs, similar to the method by which the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission had decommissioned hundreds of military bases since the late 1980s.

 

Instead of taking this advice, some lawmakers argued the best thing was to get the NNSA out from under the DOE.

 

Joining this argument was directors of the weapons labs who claimed outside meddling was the main problem at the NNSA, and the Energy Department should have less responsibility for overseeing the safety, security, and financial matters of the NNSA.

Reforming the Governance and Congressional Oversight of the National Nuclear Security Administration (by Michael Clauser, Academia.edu)

DOD Agreement Sheds Light on NNSA Problems (by Stephen Young, Union of Concerned Scientists)

 

Should energy production be deregulated?

In the mid 1990s, energy deregulation became one of the biggest political issues in the country after California decided to unravel its system of state controls over energy pricing. Proponents of deregulation contended that free-market trading would lower energy prices and bring a windfall to consumers. Federal energy officials, including those at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), defended market liberalization efforts, even after the California electricity crisis of 2000-2001 erupted and the likes of Enron were exposed as economic opportunists who exploited the deregulated energy market. Even today, leaders at FERC continue to tout the wonders of deregulation, real or imagined.

 

For opponents of deregulation, including many public interest organizations, the dismantling of government controls over the energy market was a huge mistake. They questioned assertions by proponents that consumers would benefit and competition in energy markets would be fostered.

Energy Deregulation: Is it Friend or Enemy? (by Thomas A. Fogarty and Edward Iwata, USA Today)

Natural Gas Market Transparency: What does FERC Want? (by Peter Gardett, Breaking Energy)

 

Pro (For Deregulation):

Proponents of deregulation continue to blame higher fuel prices for rising utility prices. In early 2008, FERC Chairman Kelliher reiterated the agency’s fervent commitment to deregulation:

“Our goal at FERC is perfect competition, textbook competition. Competition that is so perfect and beautiful it would make an economist weep.”  (Dallas Morning News)

Deregulation is here to stay, FERC Chief Says (by Elizabeth Souder, Dallas Morning News)

 

Con (Against Deregulation):

In the years following Enron’s collapse, critics—including consumer advocates Public Citizen—continue to contend that deregulation has not led to increased competition in wholesale markets, and that the agency has not done enough to make sure prices are “just and reasonable,” and to protect consumer rights. Critics further argue that the entire FERC deregulation scheme is in violation of the Federal Power Act (underlying FERC legislation from the 1930s).

Public Citizen Leads Consumer Advocates’ Challenge to FERC’s Illegal Deregulation of Electricity Rates (Public Citizen)

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Deregulates Electric Rates Illegally, Violates the Federal Power Act: Public Citizen Joins Other Consumer Groups and Attorneys General in Brief Seeking to Overturn FERC’s Entire Market Rate Scheme (Public Citizen)

Bush Lite: The Daschle-Bingaman-Enron bill is spoiled by energy industry special interests (Public Citizen)

Blind Faith: How Deregulation and Enron’s Influence Over Government Looted Billions from Americans. Sen. Gramm, White House Must Be Investigated for Role in Enron’s Fraud of Consumers and Shareholders (Public Citizen) (pdf)

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Suggested Reforms:

DOE Counterintelligence Efforts Need Improvement

Serious lapses in security and counterintelligence at the Department of Energy (DOE) during the 1990s resulted in Congress creating the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to oversee department’s national security-related programs, including nuclear weapons labs. The NNSA was given its own Office of Defense Nuclear Counterintelligence, while the DOE continued to operate its Office of Counterintelligence. Some studies have questioned the effectiveness of the NNSA and DOE maintaining their own counterintelligence (CI) operations to combat foreign espionage. Several alternative organizational approaches have been proposed, including the following:

  • That a new entity absorb NNSA’s CI program. Proponents assert that consolidation would improve command, control, and communication. Opponents argue that consolidation would dilute the focus on counterintelligence at DOE weapons labs.
  • Consolidate the DOE and NNSA CI programs under the control of the NNSA administrator. Proponents argue that a semi-autonomous agency such as NNSA, by virtue of its independence, is better able to implement CI measures than is DOE. Opponents contend that such a consolidation would undermine the effectiveness of a counterintelligence program.
  • Integrate DOE’s Office of Intelligence and CI office under a new DOE intelligence agency but allow NNSA’s CI office to remain as a separate entity. Proponents argue that such an approach would not eliminate the current bifurcated structure, but would enhance overall communication and coordination between the two existing programs. Opponents counter that only way to resolve coordination and communication problems is to consolidate the two CI programs within the DOE.
  • Completely separate the DOE and NNSA counterintelligence programs. Proponents suggest that such an approach would clarify the chain of command. Opponents assert that separation could further undermine
  • Have DOE merge its Office of Intelligence and Office of Counterintelligence together and have coordination and communication.

Intelligence Reform at the Department of Energy: Policy Issues and Organizational Alternatives (pdf)

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Former Directors:

Secretaries of Energy (Wikipedia)

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Comments

James Daub 5 months ago
The Department of Energy's budget is $16 billion plus. It is my understanding that this department was created under Jimmie Carter with the task to establish a roadmap of how we will achieve energy independence. We are still not close and the department has an annual budget of $16 billion plus. Our government working, for the good of government Elite.
Max GIbson 1 year ago
I do agree with your proposal Sandra. May i receive your email to talk about it.
Sandra Holt 2 years ago
I received a petition today asking the DOE to drop intentions to allow radioactive scrap metal to be used in consumer products. I am looking for an article that explains this action from the perspective of the DOE. Please provide a link. Thank you.

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Founded: 1977
Annual Budget: $28.4 billion (FY 2014 Budget Request)
Employees: About 16,000
Official Website: http://www.energy.gov/

Department of Energy

Moniz, Ernest
Secretary

President Barack Obama has nominated another physicist to run the Department of Energy (DOE) who shares his “all of the above” approach to the challenge of meeting the country's energy needs, while curbing carbon emissions that cause global warming. Nominated for the post on March 4, 2013, Dr. Ernest Moniz would succeed fellow physicist Dr. Steven Chu, who has served in the post since 2009.

 

Moniz was born in 1944 in Fall River, Massachusetts, to Georgina (Pavao) Moniz and Ernest Perry Moniz, both of whose parents were immigrants from Sao Miguel, Azores, an island chain in the Atlantic that belongs to Portugal. Moniz graduated in the top 10 of his class at Fall River's Durfee High School in 1962, where he was president of the math club and was on the tennis team. Moniz earned a BS in Physics at Boston College in 1966 and a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Stanford University in 1972, where his dissertation was entitled, “On the Interaction of High Energy Particles with Nuclei.” 

 

Joining the Physics Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1973, Moniz rose to full professor and served as department head from 1991 to 1995. Over the course of his career, Moniz has focused his research on energy technology and policy. At present he is the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, director of the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, and director of the Energy Initiative, which studies how to sustain energy consumption and avoid global warming. 

 

His leadership of the Energy Initiative has drawn criticism from environmentalists and others because large fossil fuel companies, including BP, Shell, ENI, and Saudi Aramco, gave up to $25 million each to the Initiative, which has released reports supportive of fracking, nuclear energy and other non-renewable technologies. Critics arguing that he is too cozy with the “old energy” industry note that Moniz has served on the boards of directors of or as an advisor to several energy and security companies, including enriched uranium company USEC (2002-2004), BP (2005–2011), and General Electric (2006-present).

 

Unlike Secretary Chu, whose sometimes difficult tenure was often attributed to his lack of political experience, Moniz has served in policy positions in Washington. From 1995 to 1997, he was associate director for science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House. As under secretary at DOE from October 1997 until January 2001, Moniz had oversight responsibility for the Offices of Science; Fossil Energy; Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; Nuclear Energy; Environmental Management; and Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.

 

Moniz was a member of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the DOE Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, and the Department of Defense Threat Reduction Advisory Committee. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Humboldt Foundation, and the American Physical Society, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations

 

Ernest Moniz is married to Naomi Hoki Moniz, who was born in Brazil and is a professor of Portuguese. They have one grown child.

 

To Learn More:

Official Biography

Durfee Grad Nominated to Energy Post (by Carol Lee Costa-Crowell and Lurdes da Silva, South Coast Today)

Drilling Deeper: The Wealth of Business Connections for Obama’s Energy Pick (by Justin Elliott, ProPublica)

What the McCarthy and Moniz Nominations Really Say About Obama's Climate Policy (by Mike Ludwig, Truthout) 

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Chu, Steven
Previous Secretary
In nominating Nobel laureate Steven Chu for Secretary of Energy, Barack Obama may have selected the smartest man ever to run a cabinet department.
 
Chu was born on February 28, 1948, in St. Louis, MO. His father, Ju Chin Chu, and his mother, Ching Chen Li, were both immigrants from China. Ju Chin Chu came to the United States in 1943 to continue his education in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Two years later, Li joined him to study economics. Higher education has been a hallmark of Chu’s extended family. His mother’s grandfather earned advanced degrees in civil engineering at Cornell, and her great uncle studied physics at the Sorbonne under Jean Baptiste Perrin, winner of the 1926 Nobel Prize. According to Chu, “virtually all of our aunts and uncles had PhDs in science or engineering,” and his two brothers and four cousins collected three MDs, four PhDs and a law degree among them.
 
Chu graduated from Garden City High School in St. Louis with an A-minus average, but was denied admission to Ivy League colleges. He received his AB in mathematics and BS in physics in 1970 from the University of Rochester, and his doctorate in physics from University of California, Berkeley in 1976.
 
He remained at Berkeley as a postdoctoral researcher for two years before joining Bell Labs, where he and several co-workers delved into research that became known as laser cooling—a technique that allowed researchers to “slow down” subatomic particles in order to study them.
 
Chu left Bell Labs and became a professor of physics at Stanford University in 1987. He went on to serve as the chair of the physics department from 1990 to 1993 and from 1999 to 2001. Along with three other professors, Chu was involved with the Bio-X program at Stanford intended to bring together scientists from physics, chemistry, biology and engineering backgrounds under one roof in the James H. Clark Center. He also played an important role in securing the funding of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford.
 
In 1997, Chu was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics along with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William D. Phillips for their work at Bell Laboratories developing methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.
 
In 2004, Chu was appointed the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), during which time he also accepted a position as a professor of physics at UC Berkeley. While running LBNL, Chu led a push to develop new technologies using biofuels and solar energy to help in the fight against global warming.
 
In 2007, Chu was at the center of a heated controversy at Berkeley concerning his support of a deal with British Petroleum to provide partial funding for a new Energy Biosciences Institute that would grant the company unprecedented rights to the intellectual property it produces.
 
Chu is the first cabinet member to have earned a Nobel Prize.
 
Autobiography (NobelPrize.org)
Steven Chu Biography (MadeHow.com)
Is Steven Chu BFF With BP? (by Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones)
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Overview

The Department of Energy (DOE) is a cabinet-level agency that has both important energy- and national security-related missions. DOE’s roots go all the way back to World War II and the Manhattan Project, the top-secret program that launched America’s effort to develop and stockpile nuclear weapons. DOE’s predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission, managed the country’s nuclear weapons complex until the 1970s, when the Energy Department assumed that responsibility upon its creation. Today, Energy officials still oversee the laboratories that were once primarily responsible for creating weapons of mass destruction, along with implementing policies geared toward strengthening the United States’ sources of energy. The DOE carries out policies ranging from nuclear power to fossil fuels to alternative energy sources. Under the current administration of President Barack Obama, U.S. energy policy has focused primarily on “clean energy” initiatives and technologies, a departure from the policies of former President George W. Bush, whose DOE provided considerable support to nuclear power and oil development, which provoked criticism from environmentalists and those on the left.


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History:

The federal government’s earliest agencies that delved into energy-related policy were those that focused on petroleum and coal. The Office of Fossil Energy traces its roots back to the early 20th Century when oil was just beginning to become a much sought after fuel source for the budding automotive industry and for trans-oceanic shipping. But it was during World War II when a powerful new energy source was developed for military purposes that the U.S. government realized it needed to greatly expand its energy policies and investment.

 

In 1942, federal military officials established the Manhattan Project to build the world’s first atomic bombs, which were dropped on Japan in 1945. Following the war, Congress debated whether atomic power should be controlled by civilians or the military, eventually deciding on the former by passing the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (pdf). As a result of the act, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was created and took control of the nuclear weapons complex, a sprawling network of laboratories and facilities that built America’s nuclear weapons stockpile. During the early Cold War years, the AEC focused on designing and producing nuclear weapons and developing nuclear reactors for naval propulsion. This mission placed greater emphasis on weapons production than concerns over environmental degradation and health hazards produced by nuclear weapons facilities.

 

The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (pdf) ended exclusive government use of the atom and began the growth of the commercial nuclear power, giving the AEC authority to regulate the new industry. In response to changing needs in the mid 1970s, the AEC was abolished and the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 (pdf) created two new agencies: the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to regulate the nuclear power industry and the Energy Research and Development Administration to manage the nuclear weapon, naval reactor, and energy-development programs.

 

However, the extended energy crisis of the 1970s soon demonstrated the need for unified energy organization and planning. The Department of Energy Organization Act brought the federal government's agencies and programs into a single agency—the Department of Energy (DOE), activated on October 1, 1977. The DOE assumed the responsibilities of the Federal Energy Administration (pdf), the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Federal Power Commission and parts and programs of several other agencies.

 

The Energy Department provided the framework for a comprehensive national energy plan by coordinating and administering the energy functions of the federal government. The DOE undertook responsibility for long-term, high-risk research and development of energy technology, federal power marketing, energy conservation, the nuclear weapons program, energy regulatory programs, and a central energy data collection and analysis program.

 

Over its two-decade history, the DOE has shifted its emphasis and focus as the needs of the nation have changed and as different administrations have imposed their own priorities. During the late 1970s, the department emphasized energy development and regulation, including early exploration into alternative energy sources. In the 1980s, nuclear weapons research, development and production took a priority as the Reagan administration sought to expand America’s strategic position vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. The 1980s also witnessed the turning of public opinion against nuclear power following accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. By the beginning of the 1990s, the Cold War was over, leading the department to focus on environmental cleanup of the nuclear weapons complex, nonproliferation and stewardship of the nuclear stockpile, energy efficiency and conservation and technology transfer and industrial competitiveness. Research into nuclear power was greatly curtailed as well.

 

But with the election of George W. Bush in 2001, nuclear power gained an important ally, as did the oil industry, which spurred the Energy Department to focus on these two energy sectors. A key development in energy policy during the Bush presidency was the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (pdf). Within the 500-page law was a broad collection of subsidies for nuclear and oil companies, as well as new initiatives designed to develop and promote a new generation of nuclear power reactors.

 

With the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, “clean energy” was given renewed attention. The passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (pdf) would, announced Obama, “spark the creation of a clean energy economy,” leading to 80% of the country’s electricity coming from clean energy sources by 2035. Indeed, according to the White House, the act provided for more than $80 billion in tax credits and investments in clean energy and transportation projects. Among those investments were $11 billion for a smart grid, $6.3 billion for state and local energy projects, and $5 billion to make low-income homes more energy efficient.

 

Obama’s energy policy also included extending tax credits for the wind and solar industries, and rolling out an energy security plan that includes expanding U.S. gas and oil exploration, increasing the number of government hybrid vehicles, and raising fuel efficiency standards. His call for new industry regulations in response to climate change threats prompted a predictable reaction from industry and conservative politicians, who charge that such policies would harm the U.S. economy and job growth.

History of Energy in the United States: 1635-2000

Department of Energy 1977-1994, A Summary History (pdf)

The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb (pdf)

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What it Does:

The Department of Energy (DOE) is responsible for advancing the national, economic and energy security of the United States through the implementation of policies regarding nuclear power, fossil fuels, and alternative energy sources. The DOE promotes scientific and technological innovation in all of the aforementioned energy sectors and is charged with the environmental cleanup of the national nuclear weapons complex. One of its key duties is the formulation and implementation of the National Energy Policy. This comprehensive and wide ranging document covers energy challenges facing the US (pdf);  impacts of high energy prices (pdf); protecting America’s environment (pdf); increasing energy conservation and efficiency (pdf); increasing domestic energy supplies (pdf); increasing America’s use of renewable and alternative energy (pdf); America’s energy infrastructure (pdf); and enhancing national energy security and international relations (pdf).  

 

Key DOE offices:

Nuclear Power and Weapons and Their Consequences

Office of Nuclear Energy

The Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) is the lead agency within the DOE charged with promoting and developing nuclear power. The NE helps spearhead new nuclear energy generation technologies, including plans to develop proliferation-resistant nuclear fuel that can maximize energy from other nuclear fuel. The office also maintains and enhances the national nuclear technology infrastructure and manages research laboratories and radiological facilities. The programs funded by the NE are designed to develop new nuclear reactors that will help diversify the domestic energy supply through public-private partnerships.

 

National Nuclear Security Administration

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is a semi-autonomous agency within the DOE that is responsible for overseeing the nation’s nuclear weapons complex. Using private contractors to run day-to-day operations, the NNSA manages highly classified research laboratories and nuclear defense facilities that maintain the stockpile of nuclear weapons as well as provide the propulsion systems for the U.S. Navy’s nuclear fleet. Born out of controversy, the NNSA has struggled since its creation in 2000 to move past the mistakes of the Energy Department that led Congress to establish this new agency. Security failures involving foreign espionage prompted the administration of President Bill Clinton and Congress to reorganize the DOE and entrust the NNSA with the duty of taking care of the nation’s post-Cold War arsenal of nuclear weapons. The agency, however, has repeatedly been criticized for its own lapses in security and other blunders.

 

Office of Environmental Management

The Office of Environmental Management (EM) is responsible for overseeing the cleanup of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex. Representing a leftover from the Cold War, vast amounts of radioactive and toxic waste and contamination are spread throughout nuclear weapons facilities around the country, requiring long-term efforts involving environmental restoration, waste management, technology development, and land reuse by EM. The agency has succeeded in completing cleanup at 90 nuclear sites and continues its efforts at 17 additional sites located in 11 states.

 

Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning Fund

Managed by the Office of Environmental Management, the Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning Fund supports the cleanup of some of the nation’s most contaminated areas. The polluted sites are all former production facilities used during the Cold War to supply enriched uranium for nuclear warheads and commercial nuclear reactors. Located in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio, the plants encompass more than 30 million square feet of floor space, miles of interconnecting pipes, and thousands of acres of land that are contaminated with radioactive and hazardous materials. Cleanup of the sites is expected to be completed around 2040 and cost upward of $20 billion.

 

Office of Legacy Management

The Office of Legacy Management (LM) picks up where the Office of Environmental Management (EM) leaves off. Once cleanup at former nuclear weapons facilities is completed by the EM, the LM takes over the location to manage any remaining environmental and human issues; it currently manages more than 87 sites located throughout the country. The office is responsible for managing issues consisting of site monitoring, property management, grants to assist local communities affected by facility closure, records storage and pensions, health care, and life insurance for former workers.

 

Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management

The Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM) was responsible for disposing of the nation’s civilian and military nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel. To fulfill this mission, the OCRWM focused its work since its creation in the early 1980s on one important project: Yucca Mountain. Located in southern Nevada, Yucca Mountain was primed to become the nation’s first geologic repository for the long-term burial of nuclear waste that has been piling up around the country for the past six decades. According to the agency, the United States had accumulated 53,440 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear reactors by 2005. In addition, military-related activities are expected to produce 22,000 canisters of solid radioactive waste for future disposal. Altogether, experts estimated that 135,000 tons of waste would end up being buried at the site.

 

Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board

The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) is an independent federal agency that conducts scientific and technical assessments of the DOE’s activities to dispose of the nation’s commercial spent nuclear fuel and defense high-level radioactive waste. It had evaluated DOE’s technical and scientific work to establish Yucca Mountain as the sole repository for nuclear waste, a $15-billion effort that was defunded in 2009. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendments of 1987, which established the board, the NWTRB has access to draft documents prepared by the DOE and its contractors so that it can conduct its review in “real time,” not after the fact. Twice a year, the board reports its conclusions and recommendations to Congress and to the Secretary of Energy and points out concerns from outside parties. It has no regulatory or implementing authority. The board consists of 11 members who are nominated by the National Academy of Sciences on the basis of expertise, which ranges from geochemistry to materials science to hydrology to transportation. Members are then appointed by the president and serve a four-year term.

 

Office of Health, Safety and Security

Created in 2006, the Office of Health, Safety and Security (HSS) is responsible for overseeing worker safety and security matters at nuclear weapons facilities located across the country. It has been the subject of much controversy since its very beginning when Energy Department leaders decided to eliminate the previous office handling worker safety—the Office of Environment, Safety and Health—and turn those duties over to the newly formed HSS, which is led by a longtime security chief. Critics contended the move was designed to protect large private contractors at the expense of worker safety. Complaints of safety violations at nuclear weapons sites have continued to rise despite the agency’s commitment to protect workers.

 

Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) is an independent government agency responsible for monitoring and advising DOE’s management of defense nuclear facilities, some of which today are being dismantled and cleaned up. Under its mandate from Congress, the board is charged with ensuring the implementation of DOE health and safety standards by energy officials and to issue advisory recommendations regarding work at facilities. The board also investigates operations or specific problems that arise at facilities that could adversely impact public health or safety and issues recommendations to address these problems. The DNFSB publishes unclassified reports with recommendations to correct problems at DOE facilities.

 

Renewable Energy

Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) researches and develops alternative fuels and helps promote the use of these fuels. The office is concerned with developing cleaner burning fuels, wind, hydro energy, and other renewable energy sources in order to break the dependency the U.S. has on foreign oil and other non-renewable resources. As part of its mission, the EERE creates tax incentives for private businesses to develop new technologies that will assist in the overall goal of creating new and cleaner energy sources. According to the EERE, “clean energy” is defined as energy-efficient technologies and practices that use less energy, and alternative power and delivery technologies that produce and transport power and heat more cleanly than conventional sources.

 

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is the main research center for developing renewable energy technologies and helping get those technologies into the marketplace. The laboratory’s main focus is to analyze and understand alternative energy technologies and the U.S. electrical grid system support to reduce emissions and dependence on conventional fuels. The NREL’s research focuses on thirteen areas for innovation in efficient and renewable energies. It is the principal research facility for the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Office of Science and the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. The NREL also provides technical assistance, energy planning, and economic development for many organizations and industries in the U.S.

 

Power Marketing Administrations

The Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs) are four federal agencies responsible for marketing hydropower—primarily excess power produced by federal dams and projects operated by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. The four federal PMAs, which market and distribute power to 60 million people in 34 states, are required to give preference to public utility districts and cooperatives. Each PMA is a distinct and self-contained entity within the DOE, much like a wholly owned subsidiary of a corporation, and each is affected by its own unique regional issues and conditions. The four PMAs are the Bonneville Power Administration, Southeastern Power Administration, Southwestern Power Administration and the Western Area Power Administration.

 

Electricity, Oil, Gas and Coal

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the federal agency responsible for overseeing the electrical, natural gas, and oil industries. It has jurisdiction over state-to-state electricity sales, wholesale electric rates, hydroelectric licensing, natural-gas pricing, and oil pipeline rates. It also reviews and authorizes liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, pipelines and non-federal hydropower projects. The FERC is composed of up to five commissioners appointed by the president, with no more than three commissioners belonging to the same political party. Although an independent agency, FERC has proven susceptible to lobbying and political influence.

 

Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability

The Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE) is in charge of overseeing the availability of electricity throughout the country. The OE makes sure the U.S. electrical grid is working properly, both now and in the future, as new technologies become available to better provide electrical service to American homes, businesses, and governments. It funds research and development programs that explore new means of storing and delivering electricity. The office also works to identify any infrastructure problems that could potentially cause large-scale power outages, such as the 2003 blackout that affected the Midwest, Northeast, and parts of Canada. Working with other federal agencies, the OE also prepares for responding to any outages that might stem from terrorist-related attacks on the electric grid.

 

Office of Fossil Energy

The Office of Fossil Energy (FE) is the federal government’s lead office for coal, natural gas, and oil exploration and development. The office oversees approximately 600 research and development projects ranging from development of zero-emissions power plants to energy facilities that efficiently transform coal, biomass, and other fuels into commercial products to new technologies that can extract oil from existing fields that currently is unreachable. The FE is also responsible for managing the country’s underground supply of oil to be used in case of emergencies, known as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and running three research labs that conduct fossil energy exploration.

 

Research

Office of Science

The Office of Science (OS) is one of the federal government’s largest distributors of research money for science exploration. As the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences, the office provides more than 40% of total funding in this area. It also oversees research programs in high-energy physics, nuclear physics, fusion energy sciences, basic energy sciences, biological and environmental sciences and computational science. In addition, the OS is the federal government’s largest single financial supporter of materials and chemical sciences, and it supports programs involving climate change, geophysics, genomics, life sciences, and science education. The OS operates six interdisciplinary program offices: Advanced Scientific Computing Research, Basic Energy Sciences, Biological and Environmental Research, Fusion Energy Sciences, High Energy Physics, and Nuclear Physics.

 

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Where Does the Money Go

The Department of Energy (DOE) has spent more than $285.3 billion on contractors during this decade, according to USASpending.gov. More than 14,000 companies and public organizations, including some of the nation’s most prominent universities, defense contractors, and engineering firms, were paid by the department for services that largely dealt with the operating of research labs and nuclear facilities owned by the DOE.

 

Universities that run key research labs for the department’s Office of Science include Iowa State University (Ames Laboratory); Princeton University (Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory); Stanford University (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center); State University of New York (Brookhaven National Laboratory); University of Chicago (Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory); University of California (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory); University of Tennessee (Oak Ridge National Laboratory); and University of Wisconsin/Michigan State University (Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center).

 

Among defense contractors and engineering firms helping the DOE clean up the legacy of nuclear weapons production is Fluor, an international engineering and construction firm, which had a $9.5 billion contract to handle cleanup operations at Fernald, a former uranium processing facility in Ohio, and—from 1996 to 2008—a contract for work at the Hanford plutonium facility, which has been described as the most dangerous environmental project in the country because of the scope of the cleanup. Also performing work at Hanford are construction giants Bechtel (which has a stake in the Savannah River cleanup) and CH2M Hill, which is handling cleanup work (pdf) through 2015 at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory and is involved with work (pdf) at Savannah River.

 

Babcock & Wilcox, an engineering energy firm, has a $3.3 billion contract for Savannah River and another contract with Pantex, the nation’s central facility for assembling and dismantling nuclear warheads.

 

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin runs the United States Energy Corporation on behalf of the Department of Energy, responsible for the day-to-day operations at the two gaseous diffusion plants (GDPs) being dismantled and cleaned up under the guidance of DOE’s Office of Environmental Management (EM). Lockheed Martin also runs the Sandia National Laboratories for the DOE.

 

Battelle, an international science and technology firm, co-operates the Oak Ridge facility in conjunction with the University of Tennessee. Another prominent higher education stakeholder is the University of California, which was the sole manager of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California until 2007. Today, it manages the lab along with a consortium involving Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox, URS Corporation, and Battelle. Los Alamos National Security LLC, consisting of the University of California system, Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox, and URS Corporation, runs Los Alamos National Laboratory, the original home of the Manhattan Project.

 

The EM manages a cleanup project at the Nevada National Security Site, the nation’s primary testing ground for nuclear explosions from the 1950s until the 1990s. The site is managed by National Security Technologies LLC, a joint venture involving defense contractor Northrop Grumman, construction corporation AECOM, CH2M Hill, and Babcock & Wilcox.

 

The top five types of products or services purchased by the DOE during the past decade, according to USASpending.gov, were operation of government R&D facilities ($131,336,945,525), operation of government restoration ($16,513,451,131), operation of other government industrial buildings ($14,722,290,665), operation of production buildings ($14,011,786,278), and operation of miscellaneous government buildings ($10,859,115,284).

 

The five largest recipients of DOE contracts from 2003-2013 are as follows:

 

1. Lockheed Martin Corporation                                $27,085,565,243        

2. Bechtel Group Inc.                                                 $24,250,967,897        

3. State of California                                                  $20,595,782,263        

4. URS Corporation                                                    $18,944,043,278        

5. Los Alamos National Security LLC                       $17,353,702,916        

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Controversies:

DOE Chief Creates Controversy Favoring Fracking

President Barack Obama’s candidate to lead the Department of Energy (DOE) during his second term produced criticism from environmentalists and others opposed to hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking).

 

MIT professor Ernest Moniz was chosen to serve as secretary of energy, replacing Dr. Steven Chu. Critics of the decision said Moniz represented a threat to Obama’s promise to address the man-made causes of global warming, due to the physicist’s support for fracking. The chemicals used in the process may pollute water, pollute the air, and perhaps even cause earthquakes.

 

“Mr. Moniz is affiliated with the industry-backed MIT Energy Initiative, so we shouldn’t be surprised about his favorable position on fracking,” Mitch Jones from Food & Water Watch told Common Dreams. “But President Obama could do a lot better.”

 

For Moniz, fracking was a great development because of its capacity to help expand natural gas drilling, which the professor considered a “clean energy” in comparison to greenhouse gas emitters like coal.

 

Critics also pointed out that Moniz was cozy with the “old energy” industry, citing his place on the boards of directors of or as an adviser to several energy and security companies, including enriched-uranium company USEC (2002-2004), BP (2005-2011), and General Electric (since 2006).

Obama's Possible Frack-Friendly Energy Plan a 'Nail in the Coffin' for Climate (by Jon Queally, Common Dreams)

Secretary of Energy: Who Is Ernest Moniz? (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

A Tutor for Cuomo (New York Daily News)

 

Backdoor Shipment Planned for Nuclear Waste from Tennessee to Nevada

Political leaders in Nevada objected to a 2013 plan by the DOE to ship old nuclear waste from Tennessee to the state for storage.

 

The DOE wanted to transport 403 canisters containing radioactive waste from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to the Nevada National Security Site, where it would be buried in a desert landfill underneath another layer of radioactive waste.

 

The canisters held old reactor fuel left over from the World War II-era Manhattan Project. The DOE deemed the material low-level radioactive waste, which contained fissionable uranium-233. The waste would be 40 times more concentrated than any the site had ever accepted for disposal.

 

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval objected to the shipment, as did U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nevada). Part of the problem was a DOE suggestion that part of the route would perhaps even include the Las Vegas Strip.

 

In a letter addressed to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Sandoval wrote that the plan posed a danger to workers and provided a potential source for a “dirty bomb.” The governor also said the proposal failed to address the concerns of local governments and Native American tribes.

DOE Slow to Respond to Nevada Lawmakers’ Nuclear Waste Concerns (by Andrew Doughman, Las Vegas Sun)

Titus Demands Answers on Nuclear Waste Routes Through Las Vegas Valley (by Andrew Doughman, Las Vegas Sun)

More Productive Talks, No Resolution on Planned Nuclear Waste Shipment (by Andrew Doughman, Las Vegas Sun)

 

DOE on the Hook for Fines if Cleanup Deadlines Aren’t Met

Federal budget cuts in 2013 threatened to slow down cleanup operations at a Cold War-era nuclear facility in South Carolina, prompting state officials to offer their own threat of hefty fines against the agency overseeing the work.

 

The head of South Carolina’s environmental protection agency warned the DOE not to drag its feet on scheduled cleanup operations at the Savannah River Site (SRS), which holds 37 million gallons of high-level, radioactive waste in 49 underground tanks that are 50 or 60 years old.

 

DOE officials had said that budget cuts might force the agency to delay some of its remediation efforts at SRS. That may mean missing some 30 milestones on the cleanup timetable.

 

But Catherine Templeton, director of the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control, announced that any delays would result in fines of $105,000 day. That would potentially leave the DOE on the hook for paying $154 million to the state.

Savannah River Site: Keep the Promises (Savannah Morning News)

DOE Budget Cuts to SRS Could Result in Huge Fines, Environmental Risks (by Lauren Walsh, WAGT)

 

U.S. Plans to Export Fracking Gas

The controversial drilling method of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has performed so well in the United States that companies began talking in 2013 of exporting some of their excess supply of natural gas.

 

But such a move could result in higher gas prices in the U.S., not to mention more fracking operations that threaten to pollute the environment.

 

In Louisiana, Cheniere Energy’s $10-billion Sabine Pass natural gas terminal originally built to import natural gas was being converted to facilitate the shipping of fracking-produced gas to Great Britain. Initial shipments were scheduled for 2015, with nearly 20 tons of natural gas to be transported per year.

 

Companies such as Exxon Mobil and Sempra Energy asked the Obama administration for permission to export as much as 29 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day.

 

These efforts represented a turnaround for the industry. Less than a decade ago, domestic production of natural gas was so low that facilities were being built in U.S. ports to import foreign natural gas. But the fracking revolution produced an abundance of natural gas, causing the price to drop to around $4 per million BTU (British Thermal Unit).

 

This may be good news for gas companies, but it’s not necessarily good for U.S. consumers or the environment. Consumer groups and some manufacturers that use natural gas opposes expanded exports, claiming the exports could drive up domestic prices and make manufacturing more expensive.

 

Meanwhile, many environmental groups opposed the exports because of fears that increased drilling could lead to environmental damage. Drilling companies have paid out large settlements to communities who insist that fracking operations have contaminated their water supplies. There is also evidence of a link between fracking-related injection wells and the onset of earthquakes.

U.S. Will Begin Exporting Its “Fracked” Gas (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

DOE Gives Green Light To Controversial Natural Gas Export Project (by Zack Colman, The Hill)

Wyden Highlights Flaws in DOE Export Study (Senator Ron Wyden)

The Perplexing Debate Over LNG Exports (by David Blackmon, Forbes)

 

Nepotism at DOE

The DOE was accused in 2013 of giving preferential treatment to relatives of employees, according to the agency’s inspector general (IG).

 

The IG report said nepotism within the department had become an “open and widely accepted” practice.

 

“Despite the Department’s ethics program and information regarding prohibited personnel practices, advocating for the selection of relatives appears to have become an open and widely accepted Departmental practice,” the report stated.

 

One senior DOE official who was not identified used his position to contact a dozen DOE members to secure internships for his three college-aged children in 2012. He had also enrolled them in training programs paid for by the DOE. The official also didn’t see anything wrong with what he had done, saying it was commonplace and that others in the department had acted similarly.

Report Finds Nepotism Alive and Well at Department of Energy (Fox News)

Report: Nepotism Is an ‘Open and Widely Accepted’ Practice at the Energy Department (by Michael Bastasch, Daily Caller)

Senior Energy Dept. Official Caught Trying to Use Position to Secure Work for His Children (by Becket Adams, Blaze)

 

Savannah River Site Fails Security Test

The DOE decided in early 2013 to test the security at a key nuclear weapons facility in South Carolina, and found the protection was far from adequate.

 

DOE specialists posing as terrorists carried out a mock assault on the Savannah River Site, which stores large volumes of nuclear material and reactor waste.

 

Plant security provided by a government contractor failed to prevent the “terrorists” from reaching a key part of the facility and gaining access to fake bomb material.

 

Other bad news regarding the testing included a decision by the DOE to halt one exercise because a shift change resulted in workers wandering through the area. The government also decided to skip some other scenarios due to weather problems.

Nuclear Site Unable to Protect Bomb Material in Recent Tests (Project on Government Oversight)

Mock Terrorists Reach Nuclear Bomb Material in U.S. Facility Drill (Global Security Newswire)

SRS Fails Security Force Test (by Derrek Asberry, Aiken Standard)

 

DOE and Pennsylvania Contradictory Fracking Studies

The DOE declared in a 2013 report that there was no evidence of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) chemicals contaminating aquifers in western Pennsylvania.

 

DOE researchers spent a year monitoring underground water supplies. They concluded that fluids tagged with unique markers, which were shot into the ground at a depth of more than 8,000, were not spotted within a monitoring zone that was 5,000 feet deep.

 

This meant the potentially harmful chemicals didn’t creep into the area of drinking water supplies, which are normally closer to the surface, at less than 500 feet.

 

The agency said the study was still ongoing, and did not represent a final assessment on the use of fracking or its potential impact on local environments.

 

About a week after the DOE released its report, news surfaced that another federal agency had sat on evidence of fracking-related water pollution in Pennsylvania.

 

A field office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) produced a PowerPoint presentation revealing that EPA on-site staff members in Dimock had informed their Washington superiors that several wells had been contaminated with methane, manganese, and arsenic, and that gas drilling was the likely culprit.

 

The internal assessment contradicted EPA’s official position, released in July 2012, that the drinking water in Dimock was not tainted by natural gas extraction resulting from fracking and that it was safe to drink.

DOE Study: Fracking Chemicals Didn’t Taint Water (by Kevin Begos, Before It’s News)

Internal EPA Report Conflicts with Agency’s Stance on Fracking Contamination in Pennsylvania Town (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Exclusive: Censored EPA PA Fracking Water Contamination Presentation Published (by Steve Horn, Huffington Post)

EPA Official Links Fracking and Drinking Water Issues in Dimock, Pa. (by Mark Drajem, Washington Post)

 

 

Overworked Guard Dogs Put Tennessee Nuclear Facility at Risk

A key nuclear weapons facility operated by the Department of Energy (DOE) was faulted in May 2013 for using tired and poorly trained guard dogs to protect important operations.

 

The DOE’s inspector general said the handling of security canines at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee needed improvement in order to ensure the protection of the facility and the bomb-grade uranium stored there.

 

“We found that half of the canine teams we observed failed explosive detection tests, many canines failed to respond to at least one of the handler’s commands, and that canines did not receive all required training,” the report stated.

 

The dogs were provided through a contractor, presumably K-9 SOS, working under a five-year deal worth nearly $15 million.

 

The inspector general’s office said there had been claims the contactor had “rigged” proficiency tests for the dogs. But it was unable to confirm these accusations. Auditors did confirm claims that the dogs were overworked and not given enough rest between shifts, especially on hot days. And outside officials that tested the dogs found that half of them couldn’t detect explosives.

 

Y-12 has gotten into trouble before over security problems, including security personnel allegedly cheating on exams and an incident in 2012 when three peace activists breached the site’s perimeter and made it to a key uranium storage area.

Overworked Guard Dogs Put Tennessee Nuclear Facility at Risk (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Exhausted Guard Dogs Leave Nuclear Arms Site Vulnerable (LAPA Canine)

Tired, Poorly Trained Guard Dogs Could Endanger Nuclear Arms Site (by Diane Barnes, Global Security Newswire)

 

Security at Nuclear Weapons Sites Lagging

After the 9/11 attacks, the DOE changed its procedures and protocol for how the department prepares for a potential terrorist attack against the nation’s nuclear weapons facilities. In 2003, 2005, and 2006, Energy officials kept revising the “design basis threat” plan to better prepare for attacks. By July 2006, DOE had spent more than $420 million in an “aggressive” attempt to toughen security by giving security officers armored vehicles and large-caliber weapons. That same year, the DOE promised Congress that six of its 11 nuclear weapons sites would have upgraded security by 2008.

 

By the fall of 2007, the department was nowhere near meeting this deadline, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. Five of the six sites were still far from being ready to withstand a terrorist attack as defined by the design basis threat. The DOE said it had put off work because of plans to consolidate plutonium at many of the sites into centralized locations.

 

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts) at that time blasted the DOE for falling behind in its security preparations. “The department seems to think that the terrorist threat to its nuclear facilities is no more serious than a Halloween prank, as evidenced by its failure—more than six years after the 9/11 attacks—to do what it must to keep our stores of nuclear-weapons-grade materials secure,” Markey said in a statement.

 

Government auditors faulted the DOE and its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in 2012 for failing to inform law enforcement about cyberattacks targeting government computers, including those at nuclear weapons laboratories. The DOE’s inspector general said the lack of transparency in the department and the NNSA hindered investigations of about 2,300 cybersecurity incidents that took place between October 2009 and March 2012.

 

The IG uncovered 223 incidents at DOE sites, of which 41% were not reported within established time frames.

 

Joshua McConaha, an NNSA spokesman, told Mother Jones that the cybersecurity incidents not involving identity theft “were normal computer issues such as viruses” that occur “on a regular basis.” In fact, the agency asked to increase its cybersecurity budget by about $30 million in 2013, saying that the true number of attacks by hackers of all kinds, including automated bots trolling for vulnerabilities, may reach millions each day.

 

Security has been an issue for years at the Y-12 Oak Ridge nuclear plant in Tennessee. In 2008, seven security guards were caught sleeping on the job. Four years later at the site, security was breached when three activists, including an 82-year-old nun, cut through four perimeter fences and made their way to the wall of the building where highly enriched uranium is stored. The incident prompted a government and industry-wide re-examination of security measures.

 

Additional scandals have plagued the Tennessee plant, including discoveries that security personnel were caught cheating on exams, and that guard dogs were allowed insufficient rest and given improper training.

 

In 2013, DOE’s Office of Health, Safety and Security (HSS) performed security tests at all facilities that house bomb-grade nuclear material. The test at the Savannah River complex failed to protect the materials, and two other tests were halted due to weather and a worker shift change.

Security Upgrades at Several Nuclear Sites Are Lagging, Auditors Find (by Matthew L. Wald, New York Times)

GAO Report: Securing US Nuclear Material (pdf)

 

Obama Administration Invested Billions in Companies Supported by Energy Dept. Insiders

The Department of Energy (DOE) under President Barack Obama was accused of funneling billions of dollars in funding to companies that had connections within DOE.

 

An investigation by The Washington Post found that the Energy Department had approved nearly $4 billion in federal grants and financing to 21 companies supported by firms with connections to five Obama administration staffers and advisers.

 

Of this amount, $2.46 billion flowed to nine businesses with ties to VantagePoint Venture Partners, a venture capital firm where Sanjay Wagle, a DOE adviser, worked before coming to Washington.

 

The other four officials identified by the Post include Assistant Secretary David Sandalow, who previously worked for Good Energies, a company that received $737 million from the Energy Department; and Steve Westly, a longtime Silicon Valley entrepreneur who raised more than $1 million for the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and became a member of then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s advisory board. The Westly Group took in $600 million in federal financing.

 

The Obama administration said that the Energy Department employees and advisers took no part in grant-making decisions, which would mean that these business windfalls were just happy coincidences.

Obama Administration Invested Billions in Companies Supported by Energy Dept. Insiders (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Obama's Department Of Energy Is An Enormous Embarrassment (by Alex Biles, Business Insider)

President Obama’s Green Thumb Helps Grow Insider Trading, Not the Economy (by Katherine Rosario, Heritage Action for America)

 

Lawsuit Reveals Deficiencies

The NNSA released Performance Evaluation Reports (PER) three years after they were completed, long after decisions were made to renew lucrative contracts with private companies and long after the opportunity for oversight or input from the public.

 

Nuclear Watch New Mexico forced the NNSA to publish the reports after suing the agency.

 

As reported in a 2011 PER, the company handling work at Los Alamos National Laboratory—Los Alamos National Security LLC—did not “effectively manage” efforts in support of “NNSA strategic objectives,” a reference to the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility, a project plagued by overspending in the billions of dollars.

 

The 2012 PER described a situation in which onsite NNSA personnel suggested that Los Alamos National Security’s contract not be extended, but Neile Miller, the NNSA official in charge of awards, overrode the decision and the company was given a waiver extending its contract through 2018.

Nuclear Facilities Agency Releases Weapons Site Report…after being Sued (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

NNSA Defends Contract Extensions but Congressional Scrutiny Expected (by Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire)

New Program Review and Analysis Office to Improve NNSA’s Budgeting and Planning Capabilities, Increase Accountability (National Nuclear Security Administration)

 

Leasing Land for Uranium and Mining Continues

The U.S. DOE decided in spring 2013 to resume leasing federal land for uranium exploration and mining, which environmentalists opposed.

 

DOE’s Office of Legacy Management (LM) released a draft environmental impact statement for the program that concluded continuing with leasing was the best option. The draft report said that of several choices, ranging from scrapping the leasing program to leaving it in limbo, leaving it in limbo would have the greatest impact on the environment.

 

“It is assumed that there would be a total of 19 mines operating at various production rates at the same time,” during what might be considered a peak year of operations, the draft stated. The DOE has 29 leased tracts of land in three Colorado counties alone.

 

Not waiting for the DOE report, Energy Fuels Resources, with mining operations in Colorado, tried to restart work at a uranium mine about six miles from the Grand Canyon by going through the U.S. Forest Service. That prompted the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, and the Havasupai Tribe to file lawsuits against the Forest Service to stop the company from resuming uranium-mining operations at Arizona’s Canyon Mine.

 

In 2012, the Department of the Interior had imposed a 20-year ban on uranium mining on federal lands. But Energy Fuel Resources claimed its operation had been grandfathered in and should be allowed to continue with its restart.

 

The company lost that legal battle when a federal judge rejected its argument that the ban should be overturned, ruling that Interior had the authority to protect the Grand Canyon’s watershed.

DOE proposes restart of controversial lease program (Manuel Quinones, E&E Publishing)

Environmentalist groups band together to stop uranium mining at Grand Canyon (by David Knowles, New York Daily News)

Judge Rejects Uranium Mining Industry Attempt to Repeal Ban on Grand Canyon Mining (Earth Justice)

Op-Ed: Gamma Rays and the Grand Canyon (by Kenneth Brower, National Geographic)

 

U.S. Unprepared for Nuclear Disaster

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) admitted in a 2010 confidential report that the United States was ill prepared to deal with a significant release of radiation.

 

That report, released on the heels of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear crisis in 2011, raised serious concerns about the lack of attention government officials had given to radiation threats, whether it stemmed from a terrorist attack (such as a “dirty bomb”) or a natural disaster impacting a power plant.

 

The DHS study found that the health system “can only handle a few radiation injuries at any one time” and that “there is no strategy for notifying the public in real time of recommendations on shelter or evacuation priorities.”

 

Compounding the lack of preparation was the fact that the federal government two years earlier ceased stockpiling potassium iodide, the best-known agent to counter radioactive iodine-induced thyroid cancer in young people.

 

In 2013, the Government Accountability Office released a report warning that in the event of an accident at a nuclear plant, panicking residents from outside the official evacuation zone around it might jam the roads and prevent others from escaping.

 

The report challenged a three-decade-old fundamental of emergency planning around American nuclear power plants: that preparations for evacuation should focus on people who live within 10 miles of the site.

Homeland Security Dept. Warns that U.S. is Unprepared for Nuclear Emergency (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Nuclear Evacuation Study Shows That Communities Outside 10-Mile Zone May Bog Down System (by Jeff Donn, Associated Press)

Panel recommends US customize nuclear power plant emergency plans (Associated Press)

Evacuation Zones for Nuclear Reactors (Physicians for Social Responsibility)

 

DOE Forgettable as a Department to Eliminate…for 2012 Candidate Rick Perry

The DOE, like it or not, became party to one of the biggest political gaffes of the 2012 Republican presidential primary competition.

 

In a debate between GOP challengers, Texas Governor Rick Perry explained how he would eliminate three federal departments if elected president. But Perry only got as far as naming two of them, then drew a blank on live television when trying to name the third.

 

“It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone—Commerce, Education and the um, what’s the third one there? Let’s see. . . . Commerce, Education and the um, um,” Perry said.

 

Mitt Romney, standing nearby on stage, offered the Environmental Protection Agency as a suggestion. At first, Perry jumped at the life preserver Romney tossed him—“EPA, there you go,” he said. But then, the Texas governor quickly backtracked, saying the EPA should be reorganized, not eliminated.

 

The debate moderator prompted Perry again to name the third agency. But he couldn’t, and ended with an, “Oops.” It wasn’t until 15 minutes later, long after the candidates had moved on to other subjects, that it finally hit him.

 

“By the way, it was the Department of Energy I was talking about,” Perry blurted.

 

Following the conclusion of the debate, Perry told reporters he really “stepped in it” by forgetting the DOE.

 

“Speaking of boots, I’m glad I had my boots on tonight because I sure stepped in it out there,” Perry joked. “I stepped in it. Man, yeah it was embarrassing. Of course it was.”

Rick Perry’s Debate Lapse: ‘Oops’ – Can’t Remember Department of Energy (by Arlette Saenz and Emily Friedman, ABC News)

Rick Perry Forgets Which Three Agencies He Would Eliminate As President (by Amanda Terkel, Huffington Post)

What do the Departments of Commerce, Education and Energy Think of Rick Perry's Plan? (by Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post)

 

Los Alamos Loses Computers

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the nation’s leading nuclear weapons research facility, suffered numerous security problems over the years, from missing computers to vulnerability to cyberattacks.

 

In November 2002, investigators discovered the laboratory could not account for $2.7 million in computers and equipment as well as thousands of dollars in questionable credit card transactions (including a Mustang, jewelry, and casino cash advances). As a result of the problems, director John Browne resigned in January 2003.

 

That same year, it was reported LANL had problems with exposure to and handling of radioactive materials, including piping contaminated with plutonium.

 

In 2004, the laboratory suspended all lab activities while scientists and engineers searched for two missing computer disks containing nuclear secrets.

 

Then, five years later, LANL officials feared they had lost 2.2 pounds of plutonium. A review of records revealed that statisticians at the lab had miscalculated the amount of plutonium at its facility and that none was actually missing.

 

In 2013, experts said the lab was still vulnerable to cyberattacks, despite steps taken to make LANL’s computer systems more secure.

Los Alamos' security flaws exposed (by Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times)

Los Alamos shuts down due to scandal (Associated Press)

New NNSA Head Appointed Amid Controversy (by Christine Kucia, Arms Control Association)

Nuclear Lab Remains Vulnerable to Cyberstrikes: DOE Inspector General (by Chris Schneidmiller, Global Security Newswire)

 

Hanford Tanks Leaking

Within the Hanford Nuclear Reservation along the Columbia River in Washington State, six underground storage tanks were found to be leaking radioactive waste in 2013. Some of the tanks held as much as 500,000-750,000 gallons of dangerous fluid that was slowing seeping into the soil.

 

State and federal officials said the leaks didn’t pose an immediate threat to human health, since the tanks were located more than five miles from the Columbia River.

 

The newly discovered problem only added to the soil contamination at Hanford, which was used for five decades to produce plutonium for the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.

 

There were nearly 150 tanks, similar in size and design, to the six spilling radioactive liquid and sludge at the site. Four of the six tanks had leaked in the past and were supposed to have been stabilized in 2005. The news led the state’s governor, Jay Inslee, to wonder about the “integrity” of the other tanks.

 

The DOE reported that the tanks were leaking at a rate of up to 300 gallons per year.

 

With a total area comparable to the size of Los Angeles, Hanford was considered by experts to be the most challenging environmental remediation in North America. The nuclear site was built near the city of Hanford in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, the secret U.S. government research program that produced the first atomic bombs. Federal environmental regulators estimated the site contained more than 130 million cubic yards of radioactive soil, thanks in large part to the dumping of 475 billion gallons of contaminated wastewater into the ground during the Cold War.

 

Later that same year, it was reported that the contractor hired to clean the leaking tanks had admitted to committing fraud. The company, CH2M Hill Hanford Group Inc. (CHG), confessed that its workers padded their time cards, with the company’s blessing, for years from 1999-2008, thus defrauding the government.

 

CHG’s parent company, CH2M Hill Companies Ltd., agreed to pay $18.5 million for the wrongdoing, and commit another $500,000 toward improving the subsidiary’s accountability systems.

Hanford double-wall tank may be leaking ‘screaming hot’ N-waste (by Hal Bernton, Seattle Times)

6 tanks at Hanford nuclear site in Wash. leaking (CBS News)

Six Underground Tanks Leaking Nuclear Waste in Washington State (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

As Hanford Radioactive Leak Continues, Clean-Up Contractor Pays Fraud Penalty (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Plutonium Cleanup in Washington State Could Take Millennia (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

 

New Mexico Questions Taking Hanford Nuclear Waste

The DOE hoped in 2013 to move 3.1 million gallons of radioactive waste from its Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state to a waste disposal facility in New Mexico. But political leaders in New Mexico as well as environmental groups objected to the plan and called for public hearings into the matter.

 

The outcry resulted in New Mexico officials declining DOE’s request for quick approval of the proposal to transfer the radioactive waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad.

 

Instead, the New Mexico Environment Department planned to hold public hearings before any decisions were made.

 

U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) said WIPP specifically prohibited waste from Hanford. He added that any proposal to modify permit language in this case would need “strong justification and public input.”

NM to hold public hearings on Hanford waste move to WIPP (Associated Press)

Hanford Nuclear Waste May Be Shipped From Washington To New Mexico, Officials Say (by Shannon Dininny, Associated Press)

 

U.S. Nuclear Reactors Have Unfixable Problems

The former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) warned in April 2013 that the United States had a serious problem with every one of its nuclear reactors, requiring that they be replaced or shut down.

 

The issue raised by Dr. Gregory B. Jaczko echoed those expressed by anti-nuclear groups. But it was unusual for an ex-NRC chairman to raise such alarm impacting all 104 nuclear reactors in the country.

 

Jaczko said the safety problems couldn’t be fixed, which means either replacing the reactors or closing them down permanently. Indeed, by July four U.S. nuclear plants had been taken offline.

 

While speaking before the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington, Jaczko admitted it would not be practical to close down all the plants at once. A gradual phase out would instead make sense, he added, saying he does not support extending the life of reactors—many of which already are operating long past their original expiration.

 

When asked why he spoke out after his stint at the NRC, Jaczko said: “I was just thinking about the issues more, and watching as the industry and the regulators and the whole nuclear safety community continues to try to figure out how to address these very, very difficult problems,” he said, according to Matthew Wald writing for The New York Times. Those troubles became more evident to Jaczko after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, “Continuing to put Band-Aid on Band-Aid is not going to fix the problem.”

 

Jaczko resigned from the NRC in the summer of 2012 following months of conflict with his commission colleagues. He was often in the minority as he voted for more stringent safety regulations, earning him distrust within the nuclear industry.

All U.S. Nuclear Reactors Have Unfixable Safety Problems, Warns Former NRC Chairman (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Ex-Regulator Says Reactors Are Flawed (by Matthew Wald, New York Times)

Nuclear Plants, Old and Uncompetitive, Are Closing Earlier Than Expected (by Matthew Wald, New York Times)

Nuclear Power in the USA (World Nuclear Association)

 

Y-12 Nuclear Lab Vandalized

Three peace activists, including an elderly Roman Catholic nun, trespassed onto a leading nuclear weapons facility in the summer of 2012, embarrassing the NNSA, which is charged with managing the facility.

 

On July 28, 2012, Sister Megan Rice, 82, Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, and Michael Walli, 63, entered the sprawling grounds of the Oak Ridge Y-12 nuclear weapons production facility in Tennessee.

 

The three activists managed to cut through not one, not two, not three, but four fences and reach the uranium enrichment facility on foot before one of the plant’s security guards, Kirk Garland, finally detected the unlawful entry and arrested them. Garland was subsequently fired. The government pays $1.2 billion for security at Oak Ridge every year. WSI Oak Ridge is a subsidiary of the international security firm G4S, which was taken to task for failing to provide enough security personnel for the London Olympic Games in 2012.

 

Rice, Boertje-Obed, and Walli were not armed. They carried Bibles, peace banners, flowers, and spray paint, which was used to put up peace messages.

 

A couple days after their apprehension, the three were arraigned in court and charged with federal trespassing, which is a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail.

 

Their feat raised serious questions about the NNSA’s ability to protect such an important facility. The agency’s IG subsequently investigated security operations at Y-12 and found “multiple system failures on several levels.”

 

The IG also said the breach by the three activists should serve as a “wake-up” call for the Energy Department to do something about improving the security at the uranium facility.

 

In the months after the incident, the Obama administration decided to elevate the charges against Rice and the others.

 

The defendants went from facing upward of a year in prison to six years, then 16 years, and finally 30 years. Eventually the Justice Department charged them with “aiding and abetting each other, with intent to injure, interfere with, and obstruct the national defense of the United States” and that they “did willfully injure, destroy and contaminate, and attempt to injure, destroy and contaminate national-defense premises, specifically, buildings and grounds of the Y-12 National Security Complex.”

 

In May 2013, the activists were tried and convicted on two counts: sabotaging the plant and damaging federal property. Their sentencing hearing was scheduled for September.

Y-12 vandalism suspects charged with sabotage (WBIR.com)

Y-12 Trial: Trio found guilty, judge schedules new hearing (by Eleanor Beck and John Henry, WBIR.com)

U.S. nuclear bomb facility shut after security breach (by Mark Hosenball, Reuters)

 

Pipeline Through New Jersey

Environmentalists and local residents of New Jersey were disappointed in 2012 when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company’s (Transco) Northeast Supply Link project.

 

The so-called Stanton Loop pipeline would add 6.64 miles of pipe running through private properties and across residential streets in Clinton, Union, and Franklin townships. It also would travel under Route 31, cut through the Highlands region at South Branch Reservation along the Raritan River and Cramer’s Creek Park in Clinton Township and go underneath the Raritan River, which supplies drinking water to a million people.

 

Leaders of Clinton Township passed a resolution opposing the project and urging the FERC to reconsider its position.

 

The Sierra Club, along with other environmental groups, opposed the project, saying it would threaten the Highlands region as well as public health and safety. Yet work on the pipeline extension began in 2013.

 

In May, a gas ignition and minor explosion injured 13 workers constructing a section of the pipeline. Two workers were seriously hurt and hospitalized. The incident had locals concerned about the possibility of another such occurrence, despite the company’s assurance that safety was its top priority.

Controversial Transco pipeline is approved; will run through parts of Hunterdon County (Hunterdon Review)

Gas pipeline connections start on Transco expansion, visible from Route 513 in Hunterdon County (by Renée Kiriluk-Hill, Hunterdon Democrat)

Branchburg residents, officials voicing concerns about safety following gas pipeline explosion that injured 13 workers (My Central Jersey)

 

FERC/JP Morgan Controversy

The FERC suspended the electric market-based rate authority of J.P. Morgan Ventures Energy Corp. in November 2012 for submitting false information to the Commission.

 

The suspension banned J.P. Morgan Ventures from selling power at market-based rates for six months effective April 1, 2013.

 

FERC officials said J.P. Morgan Ventures made factual misrepresentations and omitted material information over the course of several months of communications with the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) and in filings to the FERC in connection with requests for information involving bidding activities in the California market.

 

JPMorgan previously denied manipulating the market and said it had committed an “inadvertent factual error in papers related to discovery and promptly informed the commission of this mistake.”

 

FERC became involved after CAISO, which runs the state’s electrical transmission grid, complained in 2011 about the banking giant. It was taking advantage of loopholes in trading rules. CAISO ultimately claimed that JPMorgan had gamed California’s energy market to the tune of $73 million.

Obama Administration Threatens to Pull Plug on JPMorgan Trading in Energy Market (by Ken Broder, AllGov.com)

Attorney-client privilege claim backfires on JPMorgan in FERC case (by Alison Frankel, Thomson Reuters)

FERC probes JPMorgan over electricity charges (by Katarzyna Klimasinska, San Francisco Chronicle)

 

FERC Takes on Wall Street

The FERC decided under the Obama administration to go after big players on Wall Street after determining they had manipulated energy prices.

 

FERC regulators, expanding their focus on energy traders in the aftermath of the Enron scandal, targeted JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, and Barclays.

 

In the case of Barclays, the Commission demanded the British bank pay $470 million in fines for illegal trades, which the FERC called a manipulative scheme, involving energy stocks.

 

JPMorgan Chase was pursued over potential manipulation of energy markets in California and the Midwest.

FERC Takes Aim at Wall Street (by Ben Protess and Michael De La Merced, New York Times)

U.S. power market regulator seeks $470 million from Barclays (by Scott DiSavino and Karey Wutkowski, Reuters)

FERC backs record market manipulation fine on Barclays (Reuters)

FERC takes aim at Barclays over power market manipulation (by Scott DiSavino and Eileen O’Grady, Reuters)

 

Proposal to Remove Nuclear Weapons Oversight from DOE

Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, proposed in 2012 to remove the DOE oversight authority of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex, which is managed by the NNSA. Turner proposed that the NNSA take on these duties.

 

Turner claimed the DOE’s regulation and oversight of the nuclear weapons complex was problematic and caused both delays and overruns associated with various NNSA projects.

 

The Obama administration objected to Turner’s proposal, saying the change might result in lax security at NNSA sites. In addition, some lawmakers rejected the idea, including the Republican and Democratic leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which also has jurisdiction over NNSA activities.

As Senate Action Looms, House Leaders Warn Against NNSA Reform Bill (by Douglas Guarino, Global Security Newswire)

Udall, Kyl Announce NNSA Reform in Defense Bill (Senator Tom Udall)

Congress Sends President Defense Authorization with NNSA Amendment (Senator Tom Udall)

S. 3254 (112th): National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (Govtrack.us)

 

Obama Redirects Some Energy Funds to the Pentagon

In the wake of the Solyndra controversy, the Obama administration sought to keep renewable energy initiatives going by pursuing them in the Department of Defense—a move that irked some conservatives.

 

President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget plan didn’t include big increases for wind and solar power through the Department of Energy, which was still smarting from the $535 million loan guarantee default by Solyndra, a manufacturer of solar panels and hardware.

 

So, officials sought increases in spending on alternative energy in the Defense Department, such as programs to replace traditional jet fuel with biofuels, supply troops on the front lines with solar-powered electronic equipment, build hybrid-engine tanks and aircraft carriers, and increase renewable-energy use on military bases.

 

Republicans in Congress weren’t pleased with the idea, claiming the Pentagon’s efforts to move to renewable energy were more about politics than they were about saving lives and boosting security.

 

“Obama is hiding new renewable energy bets at the Pentagon, charging our Defense Department with major investments in ‘low-emissions economic development’ while cutting their budget by $5.1 billion,” Catrina Rorke wrote in a blog post for American Action Forum. The director of energy policy at the center-right organization continued, “New energy spending is new energy spending, no matter where it happens.”

Military's alt energy programs draw Republicans' ire (Annie Snider, Environment & Energy Daily)

White House Budget to Expand Clean-Energy Programs Through Pentagon (by Coral Davenport, National Journal)

 

Cleanup Safety Risks Underplayed

The cleanup project at the Hanford nuclear fuel factory in Washington state became embroiled in controversy in 2011 when Bechtel National Inc., the company in charge of the operation, was accused of underplaying safety risks at the toxic site.

 

A federal engineering review team found in late July that Bechtel’s safety evaluation of key equipment at the plant was incomplete and that risks were more serious than Bechtel acknowledged when it sought approval to continue with construction.

 

The Department of Energy, which oversees Hanford, asserted that Bechtel failed to do its job properly while implementing the tasks of removing radioactive soil and man-made materials. Some workers turned into whistleblowers to draw attention to scientific assessments that had been dismissed and managers who had allegedly abused their power. Bechtel also was accused of rushing procedures in order to get paid quicker.

 

The following year, a local watchdog organization, Hanford Challenge, released a DOE memo urging the termination of the key duties of Bechtel.

 

The document reportedly listed numerous problems with Bechtel’s work and questioned whether it should continue its role at Hanford.

 

Once a cornerstone of America’s nuclear weapons production, Hanford has become a colossal cleanup project that has dragged on for decades, costing billions of dollars (at least 250% over budget) and sparking controversy between the federal government and the company in charge of the reclamation.

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the Hanford site contains more than 130 million cubic yards of radioactive soil, thanks in large part to the dumping of 475 billion gallons of contaminated wastewater into the ground during the Cold War.

Safety doubts raised at U.S. nuclear waste cleanup project (by Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times)

Energy Dept. Accuses Bechtel of Botching Nuclear Cleanup in Washington (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Government Memo Slams Bechtel for Malfeasance, Safety Violations at Hanford Nuclear Site (Alliance for Nuclear Accountability)

 

Republicans Go on the Warpath Against Clean Energy

Following the controversy over the Solyndra loan from the U.S. Department of Energy, Republicans in the U.S. House and on the presidential trail went after the Obama administration’s clean energy initiatives, calling for budget reductions and program eliminations.

 

In June 2012, House Republicans adopted 13 provisions designed to cut off Energy Department financing for existing clean energy and efficiency programs.

 

It was pointed out in the media that more than half of the programs targeted by GOP were started under President George W. Bush, and some even earlier than that. They ranged from wind technology supports to mandates for zero-carbon buildings, LED light bulbs, and electric golf carts.

 

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney falsely claimed “about half” of the clean-energy companies that received government-backed loans “have gone out of business.”

 

The remark echoed the failure of Solyndra, maker of solar panels and other hardware, which received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Energy Department. It was highly touted by the Obama administration as an example of clean technology that the government should support. However, the company wound up going bankrupt, setting off accusations that the Energy Department ignored warning signs at Solyndra before approving the loan guarantee.

Clean Energy Cons: Dozens of Republicans Asked for Clean Energy Grants and Subsidized Loans Before Attacking Them (Lee Fang, Climate Progress)

In House Bill, Clean Energy on the GOP Chopping Block 13 Times (by Maria Gallucci, Inside Climate News)

Romney’s Clean Energy Whoppers (FactCheck.org)

Solyndra (Wikipedia)

 

DOE: Advocate for Fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing might not have become so successful for industry if it wasn’t for help from the DOE.

 

Gas companies and free-marketers have claimed hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, developed into a moneymaking opportunity without government interference. But some who pioneered the drilling technique admit that if it weren’t for Congress and the DOE, the business wouldn’t be where it is today.

 

“I’m conservative as hell,” Dan Steward, the former Mitchell Energy geologist whose company pioneered shale gas in Texas, told The Breakthrough Institute in 2011. “They [the government] did a hell of a lot of work, and I can’t give them enough credit for that. [The Department of Energy] started it, and other people took the ball and ran with it. You cannot diminish DOE’s involvement.”

 

Washington contributed more than $100 million in research to develop fracking, as well as billions of dollars more in tax breaks.

 

The DOE began funding research into fracking and horizontal drilling in 1975, and five years later, lawmakers approved an important tax break to encourage “unconventional” natural gas drilling. Among the most important government contributions, in what is called “advocacy-based science,” was the development by government scientists of micro-seismic (3D) mapping, which is known in the industry as “frack mapping.”

'Fracking': Did Energy Department Report Clear Up Controversy? (by Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor)

Department of Energy Wades into Fracking Debate (by Joel Kirkland, ClimateWire)

Development of Fracking Helped by Government Funding and Tax Breaks (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

 

Noncompetition for Site Cleanup Contracts

Nearly half of the $16 billion in contracts awarded by the federal government in President Barack Obama’s first year in office were noncompetitive, non-fixed-price deals.

 

A spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said $7.8 billion was awarded without bidding and specified price because many of these contracts were from the Department of Energy for environmental management and clean up.

 

For instance, $1.27 billion was given to Savannah River Nuclear Solutions LLC to clean up the former uranium production site in South Carolina for nuclear weapons. CH2M Hill received $1.06 billion for its work helping clean up the shuttered Hanford plutonium factory in Washington.

 

The OMB was later able to report that contracts awarded without competition dropped 10% during the first half of fiscal year 2010, compared to the same period in 2009. Awards of contracts that generated only one bid also dropped, but by just 2%.

Half of stimulus contract spending falls into risky categories (by Elizabeth Newell Jochum, Government Executive)

Use of non-compete contracts drops (by Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post)

Half of Stimulus Dollars Awarded without Competition or Fixed Price (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

 

Worldwide, Fossil Fuel Wins Out over Renewable Energy in Subsidies

The gas and oil industry as of 2010 received considerably more subsidies from the world’s governments than those provided to renewable energy sources.

 

A report from the International Energy Agency showed nations spent $409 billion on subsidizing the production and consumption of fossil fuels, while solar, wind, and biofuels received only $66 billion.

 

Coal companies alone outpaced alternative energy providers, enjoying $91 billion in subsidies. Big Oil received $193 billion in government support.

 

Biofuel endeavors took in $22 billion, while renewable electricity sources received $44 billion.

 

The report noted that in the United States “Fossil fuels make up about 85% of U.S. primary energy supply, a relatively high share by OECD standards. Oil is the leading fuel, accounting for 37% of supply, followed by natural gas (25%) and coal (22%). Nuclear power contributes a further 1%, with renewables—mainly biomass—making up the remaining 5%. . . . Oil and gas production is fully in the hands of private enterprises, even though about four-fifths of the country’s recoverable resources are on federal land or in federally controlled offshore waters.”

Government Subsidies of Fossil Fuels Outdo Renewable Subsidies 6 to 1 (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

IMF: Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies Could Cut CO2 13% (Environmental Leader)

Energy Subsidies Favor Fossil Fuels Over Renewables (Environmental Law Institute)

Obama budget trades fossil fuel subsidies for more money to green energy (by Michael Bastasch, Daily Caller)

Energy Subsidies Black, Not Green (Environmental Law Institute)

 

 

Fiscal Cliff Causes Controversy for Nuclear Arsenal

When Republicans in Congress and President Barack Obama averted the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the end of 2012, a provision was hidden within the legislation that impacted the status of nuclear arms reductions between the U.S. and Russia.

 

The controversy began when House Republicans added language to another bill, the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which could “impede the fulfillment of future U.S. obligations agreed” to the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement, according to the White House.

 

The NDAA section in question required that, before carrying out “any reduction to the number of strategic delivery systems,” such as required under New START, the President had to certify “that the Russian Federation is in compliance with its arms control obligations with the United States and is not engaged in activity in violation of, or inconsistent with, such obligations [italics added].”

 

Obama objected to the word “that,” and so lawmakers included an amendment in the fiscal-cliff bill that changed the wording in the NDAA to “whether.”

 

Now, Obama needed to only certify “whether” Russia was in compliance with the New START. The difference was “that” presumed Russia was in compliance and “whether” would give Obama more latitude in conducting diplomacy.

 

Tom Z. Collina and Daryl G. Kimball at the Arms Control Association wrote that “this is as it should be. The last thing we should do is to take a successful treaty like New START—which is verifiably reducing Russian nuclear arms that would otherwise be aimed at the United States—and hold it hostage to longstanding disagreements with Russia on other issues.”

Tea party backers swallow a bitter pill in ‘cliff’ bill (by David A. Fahrenthold, Rosalind S. Helderman and Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post)

What the Fiscal-Cliff Deal Means for Russian Nukes (by Elaine M. Grossman, National Journal)

New START Almost Goes Over the Cliff (by Tom Z. Collina and Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Association)

 

Nonexplosive Nuclear Tests Cause Controversy

The NNSA secretly tested the survivability of warhead plutonium several times during the Obama administration, provoking complaints from anti-nuclear groups in Japan.

 

Using what’s called a “Z Machine,” NNSA scientists exposed a plutonium cache to an intense bombardment of X-rays, in an effort to mimic the fusion reactions of nuclear warheads. The test allows for the study of plutonium reactions under high pressure and heat levels similar to those occurring from a detonated nuclear bomb, according to the NNSA.

 

Following Z tests conducted in June and August 2012, two Japanese Hiroshima-based organizations publicly criticized the agency and the U.S. government.

 

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum said the test was on par with that of an actual nuclear weapons test—something the U.S. has vowed to no longer conduct.

 

Another nonprofit, the Mayors for Peace, representing 5,400 cities, said in a letter that the tests demonstrated a total lack of U.S. interest in nuclear abolition and the intention of the U.S. to “cling to its nuclear stockpile.”

NNSA Keeps Conducting 'Nuclear Tests' and Mentioning Them Well After the Fact (by Andrew Kishner, NuclearCrimes.org)

Fourth U.S. Nonexplosive Plutonium Test Reported (Global Security Newswire)

 

Cybersecurity Incidents

Government auditors faulted the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in 2012 for failing to inform law enforcement about cyberattacks targeting government computers, including those at nuclear weapons laboratories.

 

The DOE’s inspector general said the lack of transparency by DOE and NNSA hindered investigations of about 2,300 cybersecurity incidents that took place between October 2009 and March 2012.

 

The failure to provide timely reporting put DOE’s “information systems and networks at increased risk,” according to the IG’s report.

 

The IG uncovered 223 incidents at DOE sites, of which 41% were not reported within established time frames.

 

Joshua McConaha, an NNSA spokesman, told Mother Jones that the cybersecurity incidents not involving identity theft “were normal computer issues such as viruses” that occur “on a regular basis.”

 

In fact, the agency asked to increase its cybersecurity budget by about $30 million in 2013, saying that the true number of attacks by hackers of all kinds, including automated bots trolling for vulnerabilities, may reach millions each day.

Are US Nuke Secrets Vulnerable to Cyberattack? (by Dana Liebelson, Mother Jones)

Auditors Blast DOE for "Fragmented" Cyber Attack Preparations (by Diane Barnes,

Global Security Newswire)

Follow-up Audit of the Department's Cyber Security Incident Management Program (U.S. Department of Energy Inspector General)

U.S. Nukes Face Up to 10 Million Cyber Attacks Daily (by Jason Koebler, U.S. News & World Report)

 

Number of New York Gas Leaks and Explosions Explodes

Natural gas pipeline leaks and explosions in New York City increased dramatically in 2011, increasing by 400% compared to the previous year, according to documents obtained by NaturalGasWatch.org.

 

The public advocacy group reported that the number of serious or significant gas pipeline incidents jumped from two in 2010 to eight in 2011. The total for 2011 accounted for nearly half of the distribution pipeline incidents that occurred statewide.

 

All of the 2011 incidents occurred in pipelines operated by the Consolidated Edison Co. of New York.

 

Federal records indicated the number of natural gas pipeline incidents that occurred in New York transmission pipelines doubled in total, from three incidents in 2010 to six incidents in 2011, and the number of incidents related to distribution pipelines more than tripled, from five in 2010 to 18 in 2011.

 

The natural gas watchdog estimates that hundreds of miles of the 5,000 miles of pipeline running under New York City are cast-iron pipes that are at least 100 years old.

Natural Gas Pipeline Incidents in NY Soared in 2011, Led By Alarming Increase in NYC Pipeline Failures (Natural Gas Watch)

 

Office of Science Involved in Scientific Misconduct

The DOE’s Office of Science was swept up in controversy when details from an unpublished report emerged in 2011 alleging researchers at a national laboratory were accused of scientific misconduct.

 

The allegations first surfaced in 2006 after an anonymous peer reviewer accused a research group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee of fabricating data in two manuscripts: a then-current submission to Nature Physics, which had not been published, and a paper that had been published in 1993 by the magazine Nature.

 

The ORNL group was headed by Stephen Pennycook, an electron microscopist who produced a landmark paper on atomic-scale imaging. Pennycook, a pioneer of such techniques, had been pushing the limits of spatial resolution in electron microscopy to solve problems in a variety of research areas, including materials sciences, nanotechnology, and condensed-matter physics.

 

That same year, Republican lawmakers challenged the Obama administration’s science czar over what they claimed were repeat incidents of “scientific misconduct” among agencies.

 

In a letter to John Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the GOP lawmakers, concerned that there was a trend developing, cited other controversies in recent years in which scientific findings were questioned or misinterpreted, covering topics ranging from a deepwater drilling moratorium to formaldehyde.

Misconduct oversight at the DOE: Investigation closed (by Eugenie Samuel Reich, Nature)

GOP Lawmakers Challenge White House on 'Scientific Misconduct' (Fox News)

Scientific Integrity Report Card (Department of Energy)

 

FERC Chief Says No New Coal or Nuclear Plants

Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), shocked many in the energy industry, and the Obama administration, when he remarked in 2009 that no new nuclear or coal plants might be needed in the United States.

 

“We may not need any, ever,” Wellinghoff told reporters at a U.S. Energy Association forum.

 

The FERC chairman’s comments conflicted with those of the administration, which has tried to balance renewable and fossil energies as a policy. The Obama administration had been hoping for a rebirth of nuclear power based on safer, progressive designs.

 

Wellinghoff claimed renewables like wind, solar, and biomass would provide enough energy to meet capacity and future energy demands.

 

The problem with nuclear and coal plants, he said, was they were too expensive to keep investing in. Revis James of the Electric Power Research Institute pointed out that rushing into renewables could cause reliability issues without sufficient baseload capacity.

Energy Regulatory Chief Says New Coal, Nuclear Plants May Be Unnecessary (by Noelle Straub and Peter Behr, Greenwire)

Smart Grid Heavy Hitters – Jon Wellinghoff, Chair of US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – part 1 (GreenMonk: The Blog)

 

Try Energy Efficiency before Renewable Energy

Much of the alternative energy debate has focused so much on investing in renewable sources that people have lost sight of the importance of energy efficiency.

 

In 2009, Jacob Arlein at Clean Techies makes the point that before homeowners and entrepreneurs jump into renewable energy, they first should make sure their homes and businesses are running efficiently as far as energy consumption is concerned.

 

“If your building wastes energy, you should prioritize improving this aspect and use the money that you had set aside for a renewable project to accomplish the task,” Arlein wrote.

 

After collecting enough savings from efficiency retrofits, an investor can implement a renewable energy-generation system, he adds.

 

“Let’s be honest, renewable generation doesn’t always make economic sense. This is why federal, state and local municipalities have set up generous rebate and tax credit systems to offset the costs. Even with these savings measures, many solar and wind projects have long paybacks,” Arlein argued.

 

Even with government rebates for renewable energy, it can take 10 to 15 years for someone to recoup their initial investment in the technology.

 

Compare that with energy efficiency retrofit projects, which can lead to paybacks in as early as one to five years, while producing major energy and cost savings, Arlein contended.

Energy Efficiency Versus Renewables: The Great Green Debate (by Jacob Arlein, Clean Techies)

Green Energy Investments Pay Off in the Long Run (by Christoph Stefes, U.S. News & World Report)

 

Lawrence Livermore Exercise Exposes Security Weakness

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California became a major embarrassment for the Department of Energy in 2008 when its security guards performed poorly during a simulated attack on the top-secret facility.

 

A commando team posing as terrorists attacked and infiltrated the lab’s perimeter and defenses, and was able to get to their “objective,” comprising a payload of simulated fissile material.

 

At the core of Livermore is the “Superblock,” a collection of buildings heavily protected to secure the lab’s store of 2,000 pounds of plutonium and weapons-grade uranium—enough fissile material that could be used to build at least 300 nuclear weapons.

 

The exercise reportedly exposed many major security inadequacies at Livermore, including the failure of a hydraulic system essential to shooting one of the high-powered Gatling machine guns that protect the facility.

Security Flaws Exposed at Nuke Lab (by Adam Zagorin, LANL: The Rest of the Story)

Despite Fire Threat to Los Alamos Lab, Plans Proceed for Plutonium Bomb Factory (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Ken Broder, AllGov)

Panel Pushes New Lab At LANL (by John Fleck, Journal North)

 

Battlement Mesa Fracking Controversy

Colorado residents complained to the LM in 2009 after natural gas companies sought permission to drill near the site of an old nuclear testing ground.

 

In 1969, the U.S. government detonated a nuclear weapon a few thousand feet underground near Battlement Mesa, in what was called Project Rulison. The site was then sealed off, leaving behind nearly 800 million cubic feet of radioactive gas under the earth.

 

Thirty-five years later, natural gas producers began drilling in the region, getting closer to the site of the 1969 blast. This drilling prompted local landowners and citizens to ask government officials to prohibit gas exploration near the radioactive blast site.

 

Some observers said the DOE and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission didn’t take the matter seriously, and were playing “Rulison Roulette” with the safety and health of the people of Battlement Mesa, the nearby town of Parachute, and the surrounding area.

The next squeeze of the trigger (by Duke Cox, ColoradoPols.com)

Garfield County commissioner still thinks DOE not doing its job (by John Colson, Post Independent)

 

Energy Secretary Kills FutureGen

Shortly after President George W. Bush announced in his 2008 State of the Union speech that he planned a big hike in energy research funding, the administration appeared ready to scuttle one of its most important initiatives: FutureGen. Lawmakers from Illinois were told by then-DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman that he was ready to pull the plug on the billion-dollar program that would have been a boon for downstate Illinois. Only a month earlier, energy officials announced that Mattoon, Illinois, won a battle with Texas to host FutureGen.

 

A DOE spokeswoman said soaring cost projections and technological advances had led the department to rethink the project. The president first embraced the concept of FutureGen in 2003 as an inventive approach to energy generation that would use abundant U.S. coal reserves but trap most of the pollution associated with the burning of coal. The idea was to marry two proven technologies to gasify coal and then bury greenhouse gases produced by the process deep within the earth.

 

During a meeting in Washington D.C., Bodman told the Illinois delegation that he planned to disband FutureGen and go “in another direction.” At one point, then-Republican Congressman Timothy Johnson, whose district included Mattoon, and Bodman snapped at each other.

 

The FutureGen project was to be one of the administration’s biggest energy research plums, rich with promise, as well as jobs and investment for the winning community. Plans called for it to be built by a consortium involving the DOE and coal and power companies, with 74% of the funding coming from taxpayers. Private sector partners in FutureGen announced the selection of Mattoon in December 2007, even though Bodman’s agency had urged a delay. Subsequently, the coal and power companies promised to pick up a bigger share of the project’s costs, leaving the administration still on the hook for the bulk of construction expenses.

 

Several communities bid to host the project, with the finalists coming down to Mattoon and nearby Tuscola, Illinois, and two cities in Texas. To some in Illinois, the battle evoked memories of the 1988 showdown over a $4 billion federally funded particle accelerator. One week after George H.W. Bush had been elected president, his home state of Texas was awarded the Superconducting Super Collider Project, triggering charges from the losing side that politics had trumped science. The project was beset by cost overruns and was never finished.

 

Following the decision by Bodman, U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) said he feared the scenario was playing out again with another Bush in the White House. “In 25 years on Capitol Hill, I have never witnessed such a cruel deception,” Durbin said. “When the city of Mattoon, Illinois, was chosen over possible locations in Texas, the secretary of energy set out to kill FutureGen.”

 

Surviving the end of the George W. Bush administration and carrying through the Obama administration, the project has since had a number of starts and stops due to funding issues. Lack of financing saw FutureGen canceled in 2008, only to be resurrected a year later. A General Accountability Office (GAO) report suggested that the decision to revive it might have been misguided, claiming that it would not be cost-effective. Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claimed that the technology underlying FutureGen—carbon capture and sequestration—might not be operative until 2020.

 

Nonetheless, the DOE decided to proceed with FutureGen. Financial backing for it was earmarked through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. In August 2010, the DOE cancelled plans to build the plant in Mattoon, and announced that it would move the project—now called FutureGen 2.0—to Meredosia, Illinois, where it would invest a billion dollars to retrofit a 64-year-old oil-burning plant and build a training center.

 

The DOE, partnered with the public interest organization FutureGen Alliance, has kept the enterprise on track. A billion dollars in funding from the Recovery Act was announced for the project in 2013, with construction set to begin in 2014 in order for the plant to become operational in 2017.

Energy Department backing out of Illinois-bound FutureGen project, officials say (by Bob Secter, Chicago Tribune)

FutureGen: A Brief History and Issues for Congress (by Peter Folger, Congressional Research Service) (pdf)

ComEd, Power Suppliers Vying to Halt FutureGen Financing Plan (by Steve Daniels, Chicago Business)

 

“Fogbank” Recipe Lost

Officials in the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) found themselves in a fog in 2007 over how to recreate a key component for nuclear warheads.

 

Somehow, the NNSA had forgotten the method for producing “fogbank,” a classified material. Outside experts suggested that fogbank was a type of exploding foam that resides between the fission and fusion portions of hydrogen bombs.

 

The Government Accountability Office reported that the NNSA spent a year and nearly $70 million trying to remake fogbank. It was unclear if the effort was successful.

 

Nuclear policy experts couldn’t believe the snafu. Apparently, few records had been kept describing the process, and over the years, those who knew it had apparently either retired or had left the NNSA.

 

“What the story ought to tell people is that the institutions that we’ve built to oversee development and maintenance of our nuclear weapons are incompetent,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the nuclear strategy and nonproliferation initiative at the New America Foundation, told Mother Jones.

Did America Forget How to Make the H-Bomb? (by Nick Baumann, Mother Jones)

Nuclear Weapons Journal (Los Alamos)

FOGBANK (Wikipedia)

 

Transmission Corridors

When Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a provision was included that allowed the federal government to force state, local and private landholders to sell property that was deemed necessary for the creation of new transmission lines and towers. The new electrical infrastructure helped form the National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors pushed by the George W. Bush administration to relieve congestion in key areas of the U.S. electric grid.

 

The administration’s plan was met with opposition from Democrats and Republicans, environmental groups, historical societies, and state and local governments. Traditionally, state, local, and regional governments have primarily determined the routes of power lines. But under the corridors plan, the federal government is able to bypass state and local opposition by allowing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)—not states—to be the final arbiter of where the lines are built. In October 2007, OE announced that the first two corridors would be built in the mid-Atlantic region that includes counties in eight states and the District of Colombia and a Southwest corridor that covers Southern California and parts of Arizona.

 

Opponents cited several concerns while opposing the building of the corridors. First, the new electrical towers would be sited through some of the most scenic and historic areas in the eastern half of the country. Officials from Virginia are concerned the mid-Atlantic corridor could impact 11 historic districts, one national historic landmark, 19 state or national historic sites, seven Civil War battlefields and the Appalachian Trail. Some of the most famous sites of the Civil War—Manassas, Antietam, and Gettysburg—lie within the Mid-Atlantic corridor.

 

The mid-Atlantic corridor would also undermine Northeast states’ efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by causing them to rely more on cheaper coal-fired power from the Midwest, rather than cleaner but higher-cost electric generators fired by natural gas.

National Electric Transmission Corridor Report and the Ordered National Corridor Designations

DOE Designates Southwest Area and Mid-Atlantic Area National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors

List of Counties and Cities Included in the Designated Corridors (pdf)

US Trumps States over Siting Power Lines (by Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor)

Mindlesser and Mindlesser (by Carl Pope, Huffington Post)

US Lists Places Where It Could Force New Power Lines (by Matthew L. Wald, New York Times)

National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors:  Will State Regulators Remain

Relevant? (by Erich W. Struble) (pdf)

Energy Corridors, Power Lines Threaten National Parkland (National Parks Conservation Association)

 

Yucca Mountain

The 20-year effort to establish a repository for burying the nation’s nuclear waste has produced no shortage of controversies. Issues have arisen over the vulnerability of the site to earthquakes and whether nuclear waste might seep into ground water supplies and be carried to the Colorado River, which supplies water to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and other major metropolitan areas.

 

In June 2002, President George W. Bush nominated Michael Corradini, a nuclear engineer from the University of Wisconsin who was an outspoken supporter of the nuclear power industry, to serve on an independent board of experts who oversee Yucca Mountain. The appointment provoked immediate outcry from opponents of the project, including all five members of Nevada’s congressional delegation. Corradini publicly endorsed Yucca Mountain, which the other members of the board had not done. Furthermore, Corradini continued to receive funding from the DOE for research on nuclear power even though he promised to stop. Corradini stepped down in January 2004.

 

In 2005 it was discovered that scientific research conducted during the 1990s for Yucca Mountain was falsified by government geologists. The controversy involved emails from three members of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) showing some data was fabricated related to water infiltration into Yucca Mountain tunnels. The revelation led to investigations by the FBI and the Inspector General for DOE and the Department of the Interior.

 

In April 2008, the Inspector General (IG) for the DOE reported that the department had hired a law firm with ties to nuclear power companies to represent the government’s effort to obtain a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to open Yucca Mountain. The firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, represented more than a dozen utilities suing the government for missing the 1998 deadline to take nuclear waste off industry hands.

 

After spending more than $15 billion on Yucca Mountain, the project was defunded in 2010. As of 2013, there are more than 200 challenges on file against the Yucca Mountain project, which could take four to five years to process. Robert Halstead, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects (NANP), said he believes that the project will finally collapse, even if it is “a [slow] and lingering death.”

 

Perhaps so, but in August 2013, the Yucca Mountain was revived when the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled, 2-1, that the NRC must resume consideration of the DOE’s site application that had been quashed by President Barack Obama. The court noted that the NRC has at least $11.1 million remaining for the work.

Law firm's Yucca pact with DOE criticized: Inspectors say agency ignored conflicts, documentation (by Steve Tetreault, Review Journal)

No Criminal Charges in Yucca Mountain Email Science Scandal (Environment News Service)

Chair of Key Nuclear Review Board Prompts Concerns About Objectivity on Yucca (Public Citizen)

more
Debate:

Should the DOE continue to manage the NNSA?

Established in 1999 by Congress, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) was set up as a semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy (DOE) in the hope that this arrangement would provide the agency the freedom to fix lapses in security at the national weapons labs. The NNSA was charged with the maintenance and modernization of the nuclear warhead stockpile, the operation of research laboratories and nuclear and non-nuclear weapons production sites, and the management of nuclear non-proliferation activities and naval reactors.

 

But during the first decade of the 21st century, security problems continued at the nation’s nuclear labs. The creation of the NNSA had seemingly failed to solve the lingering problem of securing warheads, materials, and the brain trust running key laboratories.

 

Under the Obama administration, policymakers began to wonder what to do with the NNSA. Supporters of the agency contended that the problem resided within the DOE, and that Energy officials were getting in the way of the NNSA’s ability to properly manage the nuclear weapons complex. Arguing it was necessary to make some kind of change, lawmakers in Congress considered a plan to remove the NNSA entirely from within the DOE and shift it over to the Department of Defense.

 

Pro (Keep it in the DOE):

The idea of moving the NNSA to the Pentagon raised concerns among many civilian nuclear experts, who pointed to the beginning of the nation’s nuclear weapons program following World War II.

 

Many of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, which developed the world’s first nuclear bombs, argued for civilian control in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

 

“The scientists contended that atomic energy was too destructive and important to leave in the hands of the military,” Robert Alvarez wrote in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

“The secrecy inherent to the military, the scientists felt, would thwart scientific discovery and prove to be a major obstacle to international control and cooperation.”

 

Others objected to moving the NNSA out of the DOE by citing fears that the shift would ultimately lead to less oversight of the contractors hired by the NNSA to operate the weapons labs. This issued was raised in a fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill, in which the House called for restoring the Cold War management system known as “least interference,” which meant shifting the burden of safety, security, and financial compliance from the Energy Department to the contractors.

 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) described least interference as “an undocumented policy of blind faith in [government] contractors’ performance”—something opponents of the idea scoffed at.

Who should manage the nuclear weapons complex? (by Robert Alvarez, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists)

 

Con (Take it away from the DOE):

Critics of the DOE insist the department must be separated from the NNSA. Even with the current arrangement of the NNSA being a semi-autonomous agency, there were too many security, safety, and financial problems at the labs.

 

By the end of 2011, the Energy Department’s own inspector general (IG) concluded that NNSA management was fundamentally broken.

 

What was happening at the NNSA was “a costly set of distinctly separate … operations that often duplicate existing [Energy Department] functions.”

 

The IG called for the government to establish a process to close and consolidate Energy Department labs, similar to the method by which the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission had decommissioned hundreds of military bases since the late 1980s.

 

Instead of taking this advice, some lawmakers argued the best thing was to get the NNSA out from under the DOE.

 

Joining this argument was directors of the weapons labs who claimed outside meddling was the main problem at the NNSA, and the Energy Department should have less responsibility for overseeing the safety, security, and financial matters of the NNSA.

Reforming the Governance and Congressional Oversight of the National Nuclear Security Administration (by Michael Clauser, Academia.edu)

DOD Agreement Sheds Light on NNSA Problems (by Stephen Young, Union of Concerned Scientists)

 

Should energy production be deregulated?

In the mid 1990s, energy deregulation became one of the biggest political issues in the country after California decided to unravel its system of state controls over energy pricing. Proponents of deregulation contended that free-market trading would lower energy prices and bring a windfall to consumers. Federal energy officials, including those at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), defended market liberalization efforts, even after the California electricity crisis of 2000-2001 erupted and the likes of Enron were exposed as economic opportunists who exploited the deregulated energy market. Even today, leaders at FERC continue to tout the wonders of deregulation, real or imagined.

 

For opponents of deregulation, including many public interest organizations, the dismantling of government controls over the energy market was a huge mistake. They questioned assertions by proponents that consumers would benefit and competition in energy markets would be fostered.

Energy Deregulation: Is it Friend or Enemy? (by Thomas A. Fogarty and Edward Iwata, USA Today)

Natural Gas Market Transparency: What does FERC Want? (by Peter Gardett, Breaking Energy)

 

Pro (For Deregulation):

Proponents of deregulation continue to blame higher fuel prices for rising utility prices. In early 2008, FERC Chairman Kelliher reiterated the agency’s fervent commitment to deregulation:

“Our goal at FERC is perfect competition, textbook competition. Competition that is so perfect and beautiful it would make an economist weep.”  (Dallas Morning News)

Deregulation is here to stay, FERC Chief Says (by Elizabeth Souder, Dallas Morning News)

 

Con (Against Deregulation):

In the years following Enron’s collapse, critics—including consumer advocates Public Citizen—continue to contend that deregulation has not led to increased competition in wholesale markets, and that the agency has not done enough to make sure prices are “just and reasonable,” and to protect consumer rights. Critics further argue that the entire FERC deregulation scheme is in violation of the Federal Power Act (underlying FERC legislation from the 1930s).

Public Citizen Leads Consumer Advocates’ Challenge to FERC’s Illegal Deregulation of Electricity Rates (Public Citizen)

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Deregulates Electric Rates Illegally, Violates the Federal Power Act: Public Citizen Joins Other Consumer Groups and Attorneys General in Brief Seeking to Overturn FERC’s Entire Market Rate Scheme (Public Citizen)

Bush Lite: The Daschle-Bingaman-Enron bill is spoiled by energy industry special interests (Public Citizen)

Blind Faith: How Deregulation and Enron’s Influence Over Government Looted Billions from Americans. Sen. Gramm, White House Must Be Investigated for Role in Enron’s Fraud of Consumers and Shareholders (Public Citizen) (pdf)

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Suggested Reforms:

DOE Counterintelligence Efforts Need Improvement

Serious lapses in security and counterintelligence at the Department of Energy (DOE) during the 1990s resulted in Congress creating the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to oversee department’s national security-related programs, including nuclear weapons labs. The NNSA was given its own Office of Defense Nuclear Counterintelligence, while the DOE continued to operate its Office of Counterintelligence. Some studies have questioned the effectiveness of the NNSA and DOE maintaining their own counterintelligence (CI) operations to combat foreign espionage. Several alternative organizational approaches have been proposed, including the following:

  • That a new entity absorb NNSA’s CI program. Proponents assert that consolidation would improve command, control, and communication. Opponents argue that consolidation would dilute the focus on counterintelligence at DOE weapons labs.
  • Consolidate the DOE and NNSA CI programs under the control of the NNSA administrator. Proponents argue that a semi-autonomous agency such as NNSA, by virtue of its independence, is better able to implement CI measures than is DOE. Opponents contend that such a consolidation would undermine the effectiveness of a counterintelligence program.
  • Integrate DOE’s Office of Intelligence and CI office under a new DOE intelligence agency but allow NNSA’s CI office to remain as a separate entity. Proponents argue that such an approach would not eliminate the current bifurcated structure, but would enhance overall communication and coordination between the two existing programs. Opponents counter that only way to resolve coordination and communication problems is to consolidate the two CI programs within the DOE.
  • Completely separate the DOE and NNSA counterintelligence programs. Proponents suggest that such an approach would clarify the chain of command. Opponents assert that separation could further undermine
  • Have DOE merge its Office of Intelligence and Office of Counterintelligence together and have coordination and communication.

Intelligence Reform at the Department of Energy: Policy Issues and Organizational Alternatives (pdf)

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Former Directors:

Secretaries of Energy (Wikipedia)

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Comments

James Daub 5 months ago
The Department of Energy's budget is $16 billion plus. It is my understanding that this department was created under Jimmie Carter with the task to establish a roadmap of how we will achieve energy independence. We are still not close and the department has an annual budget of $16 billion plus. Our government working, for the good of government Elite.
Max GIbson 1 year ago
I do agree with your proposal Sandra. May i receive your email to talk about it.
Sandra Holt 2 years ago
I received a petition today asking the DOE to drop intentions to allow radioactive scrap metal to be used in consumer products. I am looking for an article that explains this action from the perspective of the DOE. Please provide a link. Thank you.

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Founded: 1977
Annual Budget: $28.4 billion (FY 2014 Budget Request)
Employees: About 16,000
Official Website: http://www.energy.gov/

Department of Energy

Moniz, Ernest
Secretary

President Barack Obama has nominated another physicist to run the Department of Energy (DOE) who shares his “all of the above” approach to the challenge of meeting the country's energy needs, while curbing carbon emissions that cause global warming. Nominated for the post on March 4, 2013, Dr. Ernest Moniz would succeed fellow physicist Dr. Steven Chu, who has served in the post since 2009.

 

Moniz was born in 1944 in Fall River, Massachusetts, to Georgina (Pavao) Moniz and Ernest Perry Moniz, both of whose parents were immigrants from Sao Miguel, Azores, an island chain in the Atlantic that belongs to Portugal. Moniz graduated in the top 10 of his class at Fall River's Durfee High School in 1962, where he was president of the math club and was on the tennis team. Moniz earned a BS in Physics at Boston College in 1966 and a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Stanford University in 1972, where his dissertation was entitled, “On the Interaction of High Energy Particles with Nuclei.” 

 

Joining the Physics Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1973, Moniz rose to full professor and served as department head from 1991 to 1995. Over the course of his career, Moniz has focused his research on energy technology and policy. At present he is the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, director of the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, and director of the Energy Initiative, which studies how to sustain energy consumption and avoid global warming. 

 

His leadership of the Energy Initiative has drawn criticism from environmentalists and others because large fossil fuel companies, including BP, Shell, ENI, and Saudi Aramco, gave up to $25 million each to the Initiative, which has released reports supportive of fracking, nuclear energy and other non-renewable technologies. Critics arguing that he is too cozy with the “old energy” industry note that Moniz has served on the boards of directors of or as an advisor to several energy and security companies, including enriched uranium company USEC (2002-2004), BP (2005–2011), and General Electric (2006-present).

 

Unlike Secretary Chu, whose sometimes difficult tenure was often attributed to his lack of political experience, Moniz has served in policy positions in Washington. From 1995 to 1997, he was associate director for science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House. As under secretary at DOE from October 1997 until January 2001, Moniz had oversight responsibility for the Offices of Science; Fossil Energy; Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; Nuclear Energy; Environmental Management; and Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.

 

Moniz was a member of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the DOE Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, and the Department of Defense Threat Reduction Advisory Committee. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Humboldt Foundation, and the American Physical Society, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations

 

Ernest Moniz is married to Naomi Hoki Moniz, who was born in Brazil and is a professor of Portuguese. They have one grown child.

 

To Learn More:

Official Biography

Durfee Grad Nominated to Energy Post (by Carol Lee Costa-Crowell and Lurdes da Silva, South Coast Today)

Drilling Deeper: The Wealth of Business Connections for Obama’s Energy Pick (by Justin Elliott, ProPublica)

What the McCarthy and Moniz Nominations Really Say About Obama's Climate Policy (by Mike Ludwig, Truthout) 

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Chu, Steven
Previous Secretary
In nominating Nobel laureate Steven Chu for Secretary of Energy, Barack Obama may have selected the smartest man ever to run a cabinet department.
 
Chu was born on February 28, 1948, in St. Louis, MO. His father, Ju Chin Chu, and his mother, Ching Chen Li, were both immigrants from China. Ju Chin Chu came to the United States in 1943 to continue his education in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Two years later, Li joined him to study economics. Higher education has been a hallmark of Chu’s extended family. His mother’s grandfather earned advanced degrees in civil engineering at Cornell, and her great uncle studied physics at the Sorbonne under Jean Baptiste Perrin, winner of the 1926 Nobel Prize. According to Chu, “virtually all of our aunts and uncles had PhDs in science or engineering,” and his two brothers and four cousins collected three MDs, four PhDs and a law degree among them.
 
Chu graduated from Garden City High School in St. Louis with an A-minus average, but was denied admission to Ivy League colleges. He received his AB in mathematics and BS in physics in 1970 from the University of Rochester, and his doctorate in physics from University of California, Berkeley in 1976.
 
He remained at Berkeley as a postdoctoral researcher for two years before joining Bell Labs, where he and several co-workers delved into research that became known as laser cooling—a technique that allowed researchers to “slow down” subatomic particles in order to study them.
 
Chu left Bell Labs and became a professor of physics at Stanford University in 1987. He went on to serve as the chair of the physics department from 1990 to 1993 and from 1999 to 2001. Along with three other professors, Chu was involved with the Bio-X program at Stanford intended to bring together scientists from physics, chemistry, biology and engineering backgrounds under one roof in the James H. Clark Center. He also played an important role in securing the funding of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford.
 
In 1997, Chu was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics along with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William D. Phillips for their work at Bell Laboratories developing methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.
 
In 2004, Chu was appointed the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), during which time he also accepted a position as a professor of physics at UC Berkeley. While running LBNL, Chu led a push to develop new technologies using biofuels and solar energy to help in the fight against global warming.
 
In 2007, Chu was at the center of a heated controversy at Berkeley concerning his support of a deal with British Petroleum to provide partial funding for a new Energy Biosciences Institute that would grant the company unprecedented rights to the intellectual property it produces.
 
Chu is the first cabinet member to have earned a Nobel Prize.
 
Autobiography (NobelPrize.org)
Steven Chu Biography (MadeHow.com)
Is Steven Chu BFF With BP? (by Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones)
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