GAO analysis of energy issues is worth reading

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) (our “congressional watchdog”) has released its annual “High Risk Report” on government programs most vulnerable to fraud, waste and mismanagement or in need of reform, and complemented it with an extensive and informative website.  Included in the report are three energy-related issues, but I also wanted to quickly highlight their coverage of some other issues at DOE, found not in the report but on the GAO website.

(I admit this is really in the weeds, but I swear there’s some good stuff here.)

First, in terms of the energy-related “high risk” areas, GAO has added the Department of Interior’s management of federal oil and gas resources to its list (the only new one added).  The subject of this Post article, I would recommend my colleague Amy Mall’s blog as being great source of wisdom on this and other oil and gas issues; broadly speaking, DOI has a lot of work to do in this area.  Already on the GAO high-risk list were the U.S. surface transportation system (a good NRDC starting point on these issues here) and DOE’s issues with contract management for its nuclear security and environmental cleanup work (NRDC focus here).

But beyond that, on the website, GAO also outlines some of the major clean energy challenges facing DOE, including providing links to key GAO reports, on deploying renewable energy and renewable fuels, and supporting energy efficiency.   

Regarding renewable energy:

It is clear that DOE energy R&D funding alone will not be enough to deploy advanced energy technologies and other actions will be needed, including

    * coordinating DOE energy R&D with other federal energy R&D programs and energy policies, incentives, standards and mandates; and

    * involving state and local governments, as well as other nations and the worldwide private sector.

Given limited federal research dollars, it is important to target federal spending toward specific and measurable goals, with a clear federal role and benefits that make advanced energy technologies cost competitive and environmentally sound, so that their deployment will be sustainable in the marketplace.

This is a really well-articulated analysis of the challenge, and very closely aligned with NRDC’s own perspective on federal support of renewables, which emphasizes the need to deploy a wide range of emerging and mature clean technologies, in a manner that addresses innate energy market barriers, encourages private investment and ensures market competition (perhaps best evidenced by these two factsheets on deployment and innovation).  I hadn’t actually seen some of the GAO reports on this issue, and while they are a few years old, their discussion of barriers and challenges to deploying renewables,  especially here and here, are definitely worth a read (although the recommendations section is perhaps best seen as a sign of the times they were published in).  Given the significant increases to the DOE budget during the Obama Administration (via FY10 appropriations and ARRA), it will be interesting to see what new issues and concerns GAO has with these programs.

Similarly, GAO has a number of reports and insights addressing energy efficiency, both in terms of federal use of energy, and the role of government in establishing standards and incentives that encourage efficiency.  The renewable fuels section has a couple of similarly-themed reports, although I’d also strongly recommend blogs from NRDC as an excellent starting point on these issues.

Perhaps not the most exciting news of the day (I'm an energy policy wonk, what do you expect?), but worth your time nonetheless.