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On Friday morning, Bloomberg reported that it had seen a copy of a questionnaire sent by the Trump transition team to the Department of Energy (DOE).
The questionnaire includes 75 questions directed at the DOE and the Energy Information Agency (EIA), as well as any labs underneath the DOE’s purview.
The New York Times then obtained and published a copy of the document.
Although the questions are broad in nature, they seem to set the department up for budget and staffing cuts.
They also appear to favor nuclear power and fossil fuel.
Questions that address cuts to the DOE’s mission include: “Which Assistant Secretary positions are rooted in statute and which exist at the discretion and delegation of the Secretary?”, as well as “If the DOE’s topline budget in accounts other than the 050 account were required to be reduced 10% over the next four fiscal years (from the FY17 request and starting in FY18), does the Department have any recommendations as to where those reductions should be made?” A 050 account indicates national defense spending.
With respect to renewables and research, the questionnaire asks the DOE to provide a complete list of the projects shouldered by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which funds early-stage energy technology that would otherwise not be funded on the private market.
ARPA-E opened its doors in 2009 under President Obama and works on battery research, biofuel production, and wind turbine projects.
Efforts to modernize the US’ aging and inefficient grids also seemed to get a critical eye. “What is the goal of the grid modernization effort?” the questionnaire asks. “Is there some terminal point to this effort? Is its genesis statutory or something else?”
Just one question is reserved for wind energy, which is quickly becoming cheaper than fossil fuels in some parts of the nation: “What is the Department’s role with respect to the development of offshore wind?”
Not every question has a critical bent, though, as the transition team also asked “What mechanisms exist to help the national laboratories commercialize their scientific and technological prowess?”
The questionnaire also asks about funding for nuclear fusion projects, funding for the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, and resuming the Yucca Mountain project.
While divining the motivations behind the questions is difficult, some of them have potentially nefarious undertones. One of the questions asks for a list of all employees or contractors who attended meetings about the social cost of carbon, as well as a list of materials distributed at those meetings.
Another asks “Can you provide a list of Department employees who attended any of the Conference of the Parties (under the UNFCCC) in the last five years?” According to the Washington Post, one unnamed Energy Department official expressed concern that “the Trump transition team was trying to figure out how to target the people, including civil servants, who have helped implement policies under Obama.” Scientists have asked the administration to “refrain from singling out individual researchers whose work might conflict with the new administration’s policy goals.”
As per Bloomberg, after receiving news of the document, US Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Trump warning him that routing agency workers who’ve contributed to programs the new administration doesn’t agree with “would be tantamount to an illegal modern-day political witch hunt and would have a profoundly chilling impact on our dedicated federal workforce.”
The questionnaire also has pointed questions for the EIA, an independent agency under the DOE umbrella that provides energy market analysis.
The questionnaire seemingly accuses the EIA of overlooking the costs of renewable energy when comparing it to fossil fuels. “Renewable and solar technologies are expected to need additional transmission costs above what fossil technologies need,” the questionnaire states. “How has EIA represented this in the AEO [Annual Energy Outlook] forecasts? What is the magnitude of those transmission costs?”
Thomas Pyle, the head of the pro-fossil fuel American Energy Alliance, is leading Trump’s Department of Energy Transition team, and he likely had a hand in assembling these questions.
According to the Washington Post, Pyle recently wrote a fundraising pitch decrying “the Obama administration’s divisive energy and environmental policies” and promising that “the Trump administration will adopt pro-energy and pro-market policies.”