Energy Dept. Biased Toward Fossil Fuels in Planned Study, Group Says

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – A leading environmental organization filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Energy on Monday, claiming the agency illegally withheld documents that would show bias in favor of traditional fossil fuels while conducting a study on the reliability of the U.S. electricity grid.

The Sierra Club says the department has failed to turn over requested documents that will show its energy reliability study will disregard facts and present a biased picture in favor of the continued use of fossil fuels.

“It appears DOE has intended from the outset to release a biased study containing pre-determined conclusions that ‘baseload’ plants utilizing fossil fuels are necessary for the reliability and resiliency of the grid, and that existing policies to encourage continued adoption of clean energy sources must be scaled back,” the Sierra Club says in the complaint.

The Sierra Club says the department’s initial statement announcing the study, the involvement of personnel with strong ties to the fossil fuel industry and the exclusion of more independent experts and government works indicate it wants to prepare a biased study intent on buoying the need for fossil fuels while diminishing the importance of renewable sources.

The Department of Energy did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

The Sierra Club says on May 1 it requested documents regarding communications between high-level Energy Department officials, including Secretary Rick Perry and energy advocacy organizations, as well as “any regional transmission organization or independent system operator” that may have included information about the study.

Since, the department established deadlines in mid-July and early August which have come and gone, raising doubts about whether it will be able to provide the documents in time for the Sierra Club and the public to affect the process, the group says.

“A flawed or biased study on this topic could influence upcoming decisions by DOE and myriad other federal and state entities relating to the energy sector,” the Sierra Club says in the complaint.

The environmental organization frets this study could be used to justify fossil fuel baseload limits, meaning power suppliers will have to use at least a minimum amount of fossil-fuel related energy in the grid even during low-demand periods.

The Sierra Club also worries the study will be used to justify decreasing the use of renewable energy sources through the implementation of barriers to new development of solar and wind projects or the withdrawal of public health protections imposed on fossil fuel usage.

“These policy changes, whether legislative or administrative, could be very hard to reverse, even if the findings in the study are eventually debunked,” the Sierra Club says in the complaint.

The organization justifies its concerns by pointing to a memo Perry sent to agency employees in April directing them to begin the study:

“Baseload power is necessary to a well-functioning electric grid,” Perry wrote. “We are blessed as a nation to have an abundance of domestic energy resources, such as coal, natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric, all of which provide affordable baseload power and contribute to a stable, reliable, and resilient grid.”

Perry did not mention renewable sources in that section of the memo, but later said analysts “have thoroughly documented the market-distorting effects of federal subsidies that boost one form of energy at the expense of others.”

The Sierra Club says this type of language is a far cry from commissioning an independent review of the electricity grid and energy reliability in America, and instead appears to instruct his team to reach the conclusion he espouses in the memo.

“Secretary Perry’s April 14 memorandum, the biases of those in charge of the study, and the current U.S. administration’s previously stated support for the fossil fuel industry, strongly suggest DOE’s study will contain pre-determined conclusions promoting fossil fuel energy generation and discouraging increased adoption of clean energy generation,” the Sierra Club says in the complaint.

The Sierra Club asks a judge to order the immediate release of the requested documents and a finding the department violated the Freedom of Information Act with its delay.

The group is represented by in-house counsel Casey Roberts of Denver and Gregory Wannier of Oakland, California.


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