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May 25, 2010

The Department of Special Interests

May 25, 2010
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A few months ago we brought to your attention the cozy relationship between the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). This unique relationship between a taxpayer funded entity (NREL) and a special interest lobbying group (AWEA) came to our attention after NREL issued a white paper which was designed to rebut a study of the Spanish experience with renewable energy. The Institute for Energy Research (IER) commissioned the ground-breaking Spanish analysis in question.

Documents obtained by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) through a FOIA request later revealed that the NREL rebuttal, NREL Response to the Report Study of the Effects on Employment of Public Aid to Renewable Energy Sources from King Juan Carlos University (Spain), was intended to debunk damaging economic conclusions reached in the Spanish study. In other words, never mind the economic analysis, just find a way to discredit the findings because it’s getting traction. We have posted a detailed response to the NREL rebuttal, here if you’re interested. These documents also revealed the role AWEA, the Center for American Progress (CAP) and the Union for Concerned Scientists (UCS) played in the development of NREL’s work.

Today, we read a letter from a gentleman named Steven Chalk addressed to U.S. Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). Mr. Chalk is the Chief Operating Officer at the Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). EERE is led by Assistant Secretary of Energy Cathy Zoi. Prior to her arrival at EERE, Ms. Zoi was the CEO of the Alliance for Climate Protection, a venture Al Gore funded to advance his anti-coal agenda.

In this letter, Mr. Chalk acknowledges that EERE has an “on-going and pre-existing relationship with AWEA…” and that “AWEA is one of many trade associations that NREL work with…” We thank Mr. Chalk for his honesty. However, Mr. Chalk also notes that “NREL had no direct contact with either the Center for American Progress or with the Union for Concerned Scientists related to the Spanish Study.

Mr. Chalk was very careful with his language. It doesn’t say that NREL had no contact with the Center for American Progress or the Union of Concerned Scientists, but rather they had no direct contact. Mr. Chalk had to be so careful with his language because they obviously had contact. And according to the documents Mr. Chalk included as an attachment to his letter to Congressman Sensenbrenner, NREL employees used employees at AWEA as their conduit, a middle man so to speak, to get input from CAP. In an NREL employees words: “Liz (Elizabeth Salerno is an AWEA employee), would you send this [draft of the NREL rebuttal] to the CAP folks?” (See page 3, question six and page 50 of this document)

Now it very well may be that the National Labs work with folks in industry on technological matters. We would encourage that cooperation, but like the President, we also encourage openness and honesty. Seeking input from special interest groups with a political agenda and then pretending you didn’t crosses the line.

AWEA and CAP are two of the fiercest supporters of using taxpayer dollars to fund expensive, and often unreliable energy development from the wind and solar industries – that is their mission. IER has a different point of view, especially when it comes to protecting American taxpayers and the consumers of energy (also known as American families).

But while groups like IER, AWEA and CAP do battle in the public policy arena, it is not the role of the federal government, and the taxpayer funded agencies under its control, to engage or collude with narrow special interest groups to advance a political agenda on the taxpayer’s dime.

Sounds fair, right?

Oh and by the way, the ironic twist to the NREL response to the Spanish Green Jobs study is that the central government of Spain has recently affirmed many of the findings in the Spanish report NREL attempted to dismiss. Funny how things work out, eh?


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