SOMETHING SMELLS FUNNY AT ENERGY
THE ENERGY DEPT.'S CLAIMS of success in creating energy and conservation technologies are mostly hot air. So say analysts from Congress' General Accounting Office, who picked apart an Energy report crowing about vast economic benefits from 61 of its R&D programs. In a sample of 15 programs, they spotted errors in 11, ranging from misstatements to math flubs.
Example: A new method Energy says can boost natural gas production by a huge $20 million per well during a small well's typical seven-year lifetime. The average small well pumps only about $300,000. The GAO says the agency miscalculated big time: The actual benefit is only 1/80 as much, or $216,000 to $294,000 a well. Besides, the GAO adds, the process was developed and patented in Canada.
The political stakes are high, since Hill Republicans want to zero out the agency's $1 billion R&D budget for energy-saving. The report the nonpartisan GAO skewered was written to blunt GOP criticism. Energy official Joseph Romm admits they made a few errors but deems the overall message correct and says the GAO made mistakes in its assessment, too. He says two government-funded innovations the GAO didn't challenge--energy-saving software for buildings and more efficient refrigerators--have saved the economy $7.9 billion since 1980, exceeding the total energy-saving R&D payout.
By John Carey EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT
Updated June 14, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1996, Bloomberg L.P.