The Department of Energy is charged with developing the overall energy policy for the United States. Much of its attention is directed toward coal, nuclear energy, and oil policy, although it also concerns itself with alternative sources of energy. It is also in charge of administering the repositories for nuclear waste and the operational aspects of nuclear weapons development.
The Department of Energy (DOE) is a relatively new federal department with roots that go back to the
After a strong start during the Carter administration with James Schlesinger as secretary of energy, the DOE developed a checkered character. The department was, in many ways, under siege during the Ronald
Partially in response to energy shortages during the mid-1970’s, the Carter administration presented a legislative package to Congress that included creating a cabinet-level department to be responsible for energy policy and research. The DOE incorporated the old AEC and thus had oversight responsibility for the
During the 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan attacked many of Carter’s energy policies, such as price and allocation controls on gasoline, and even advocated the abolition of the DOE. James Edwards, Reagan’s energy secretary in 1981-1982, worked to return much of American energy policy to the private sector by weakening the department’s oversight of the energy industry. The Reagan administration also emphasized the use of coal and nuclear power as means of generating energy self-sufficiency. The administration supported efforts to use coal by supporting research directed at curbing pollution generated by its burning. Its advocacy of nuclear power led to the passage of the
When it took over the AEC’s mandate, the DOE had also assumed responsibility for oversight of the nuclear weapons industry. Nuclear weapons production had been handled by private firms as government contractors since the end of World War II, but they often operated with little oversight from the AEC. A report commissioned by the DOE in 1987 criticized the safety standards for several weapons-production facilities and conceded that weapons-production reactors were not always in compliance with federal
Global warming is one problem the Department of Energy must face. The village of Shaktoolik, Alaska, shown in 2006, is facing the same erosion problem due to climate change that forced it to relocate in the 1960’s.
With the election of George H. W. Bush in 1988, the DOE adopted a policy of cleaning up the contaminated weapons complex. It also moved to further research in nuclear power and to implement a high-level nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The DOE’s broader energy strategy was caught up in the oil shortage produced by the Gulf War in 1991. Nonetheless, the
Beginning in 1993, President
Agencies within the DOE that dealt with the nuclear weapons complex still accounted for a large share of the department’s budget, as much remained to be done to deal with lingering problems of nuclear weapons production. The DOE also turned its attention to
The election of George W.
The DOE shifted its approach to energy development to one concentrating on opening Western federal lands to energy development, massive extraction of coal, and drilling for oil and gas wherever possible–including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge–often ignoring any resulting environmental problems. Other forms of energy received short shrift at the hands of the Bush DOE. For example, when $135,000 was needed to print copies of the 2001 energy plan, the funds were taken from the DOE’s solar and renewable energy conservation funds.
The energy plans of the Bush DOE had the merit of constituting a coherent approach to energy development. The plans tended to neglect renewable energy in favor of coal, oil, and natural gas, and they were usually prepared with scant concern for environmental consequences or long-term economic costs. The DOE worked with the EPA to relax environmental regulations so as to make it easier to extract coal, oil, or natural gas. For example, regulations were relaxed to make it easier for coal companies to engage in the coal mining approach known as mountaintop removal, in which mountaintops are literally blown into nearby valleys to more readily reach subsurface coal deposits. DOE spokespeople, in addition to those from other agencies in the Bush administration, denied the impact of global warming, which is caused in large part by burning oil and coal, despite the opinions of the scientific community.
The Department of Energy has been plagued by continually shifting policies, making it difficult to construct a long-term approach that would provide for reliable sources of energy at a reasonable cost. In addition to numerous policy swings, the DOE’s leadership has often been short-lived. Most secretaries have served no more than two years before moving on to other positions, further complicating issues of policy continuity. Started in an era of perceived energy scarcity, the DOE rarely addressed the question of U.S. energy needs in a broad-based way that included conservation.
During the late 1970’s and during the 1980’s, the DOE was forced to devote a good deal of money and attention to cleaning up problems within the nuclear arms complex, some of which had existed since World War II, further diluting its efforts. At times, DOE policies have clearly favored the energy industry. At other times, efforts were made to rein in industry and to protect consumer interests or deal with environmental issues. Energy consumers were often ignored after Carter left office.
The Energy Information Agency provides a good deal of reliable information concerning energy consumption and supply of use to a variety of businesses. In addition, the DOE summer fellowship program for undergraduate and graduate students in the sciences and mathematics encourages able students to pursue study and careers in energy-related fields.
Fehner, Terrence R., and Jack M. Hall. Department of Energy, 1977-1994: A Summary History. Oak Ridge, Tenn.: Department of Energy, 1994. Detailed coverage of the DOE from its inception to 1994, albeit with little analysis. Kraft, Michael E., and Sheldon Kamieniecki, eds. Business and Environmental Policy. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2007. Collection of essays, several of which emphasize that business often has had a large impact on energy policy. Macfarlane, Allison M., and Rodney C. Ewing, eds. Uncertainty Underground. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2006. Essays from several different perspectives concerning the development of the high-level nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain. Morgenstern, Richard D., and Paul R. Portney, eds. New Approaches on Energy and the Environment. Washington, D.C.: Resources for the Future, 2004. Good analysis of several potential futures for energy policy and the role of the DOE in developing policy. Rosenbaum, Walter A. Environmental Politics and Policy. 7th ed. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 2008. Puts energy policy and the Department of Energy in the larger context of U.S. environmental policy.
Energy crisis of 1979
Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Department of the Interior
Nuclear power industry