NRDC Report Urges Congress to Update Energy Dept. Mandate to Keep Pace with Technology, Climate Crisis

WASHINGTON – Congress should update its nearly 15-year-old directives to the Department of Energy (DOE) to ensure the United States responds to the urgency of the climate crisis and reaps the economic benefits of the clean energy economy, according to a report published today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The report, Transforming the U.S. Department of Energy in Response to the Climate Crisis: Legislative Authorization Principles for Clean Energy Innovation, calls on Congress to move swiftly to update its direction to DOE, the nation’s largest public funder of clean energy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D). It offers a guide for revising DOE’s mandate—last comprehensively updated in 2005—via a singular authorizing package or multiple laws covering individual programs to modernize the agency’s current and future mission and goals, expand the scope of its clean energy technology research, and increase funding levels.

“The Energy Department’s clean energy innovation programs have been among the most successful federal policy tools to avoid climate-warming emissions over the last decade, helping to create millions of jobs in catalyzing America’s growing clean energy economy powered by emissions-free wind, solar, and energy efficiency,” said NRDC Climate and Clean Energy Program policy analyst Arjun Krishnaswami, who co-authored the report. “Unfortunately, the agency is operating under a nearly 15-year-old authorization that doesn’t reflect the full potential of available technologies and innovation strategies—or the urgency of the climate crisis.”

Past DOE RD&D programs led to breakthroughs in renewable energy technologies, helped expand the clean energy workforce, and cut energy bills for all Americans through technologies like LED lighting, and building and appliance efficiency standards. However, the report says, DOE’s outdated structure is not aligned with the most promising opportunities for addressing the climate crisis. For example, it notes that while the building and industrial sectors are responsible for more than a third of the nation’s overall climate-warming emissions, only 10 percent of DOE’s research investments are targeted there.

“Updating the Energy Department’s mission, tools, and structure—and significantly raising funding levels—will help ensure that the United States is a worldwide leader in renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean industry and manufacturing, transportation, and grid modernization,” said Tarak Shah, co-author of the report who served as chief of staff for DOE’s science and energy programs under President Obama.

The report makes several recommendations, including that Congress:

  • At least double the current level of funding for federal clean energy research and development programs over the next five years to match the scale of the climate crisis.
  • Expand the DOE’s mission to specifically include mitigating climate change and building climate resilience while ensuring workforce development programs and social equity considerations are incorporated.
  • Expand efforts to decarbonize the industrial, buildings, and transportation sectors.  

In addition, the report highlights dozens of specific technology topics that Congress could allow DOE to work on to combat climate change. This would differ from the 2005 authorization, which only provides DOE vague, high-level guidance on the areas where it is permitted to work.

Both the House and Senate are considering bills that would reauthorize some DOE programs. However, these bills do not cover the full range of technology programs that need updates, nor do they address major structural issues holding the agency back. The recommendations in this report, if implemented, would help fill the gaps.

The report can be found here. A blog by author Arjun Krishnaswami is posted here.    


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at

Related Issues
Renewable Energy

Related Press Releases