In August my exposé in The Atlantic detailed the Trump administration takedown of a clean energy study. Since then I have been working hard to document how deep the political interference goes at the U.S. Department of Energy. The answer is DEEP.
My story for InvestigateWest and Grist shows that political interference is a pervasive practice targeting research funded by the DOE’s efficiency and renewables office. In all, Trump appointees have blocked reports for more than 40 clean energy studies, according to emails and documents I obtained as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees at the Department of Energy and its national labs.
“There are dozens of reports languishing right now that can’t be published,” said Stephen Capanna, a former director of strategic analysis for the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — the office that Simmons runs — who quit in frustration in April 2019. “This is a systemic issue.”
Bottling up and slow-walking studies violates the Energy Department’s scientific integrity policy and is already harming efforts to fight climate change, according to energy and policy experts, because Energy Department reports drive investment decisions. Entrepreneurs worry that the agency’s practices under the current White House will ultimately hurt growth prospects for U.S.-developed technology.
The meddling is also fuelling an energy science brain drain. Not only because research is held up. But because scientists have no idea why their work is disappearing. They, and the research they’re waiting to publish, are simply left dangling. “There’s no feedback,” said one national lab researcher. “It just goes into a black hole.”