The Locker Room

July 18, 2009

Of humor in the federal workplace

Posted by Jon Sanders at 10:45 PM

My latest on Townhall discusses the vice president and a very redundant federal job:

... on July 9 a notice appeared on the Federal Business Opportunities web site [for a consultant on] "Humor in the Workplace." ...

This job announcement languished till Friday, July 17, when one of the better angels of good humor brought it to the attention of the Drudge Report, where it was posted that morning at the very top of the page — and given two headlines!

It was even given top billing over a picture of our Vice President accompanying the banner headline quoting him: 'WE HAVE TO SPEND MONEY TO KEEP FROM GOING BANKRUPT.'

And that placement alone worked to avert an inefficiency in the federal government. ...

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Energy policy control - the latest grab, aka House Bill 1481

Posted by Becki Gray at 00:48 AM

As this legislative session begins to wind down, there is an urgency to pass certain legislation before adjournment.  And this session many of those urgent bills are to take advantage of the federal stimulus money - many are tied to energy policy.  There are concerns and questions that need to be asked – are all the programs a good use of taxpayer money?  What are the long-term impacts? Are we setting good and responsible policy or just creating a vehicle for “free money” from the feds?   Will this stimulate the economy or just advance an agenda?  And most importantly, how much will this cost?  House Bill 1481 is an example.

House Bill 1481, Energy to Commerce: OEO to Energy was filed last April and passed the House 109-4 in mid-May.  It went to the Senate where it has bounced around for the last two months.  It was scheduled to be heard on the Senate floor on Thursday, it was withdrawn and re-calendared for Monday night.

When the bill was originally filed, it simply consolidated State Energy Office administration duties that were spread across several state agencies under one in the Department of Commerce.  Seemed like a reasonable idea to consolidate and streamline some government functions.  

But wait. As often happens the bill got loaded with additional provisions that have little to do with the original intent of the bill and have everything to do with the expansion of government, new energy policy, control and unintended consequences.

House Bill 1481, in its present form makes “various changes to the Energy Policy Act of 1975, including expanding the scope and focus of the Energy Policy Council.”  

The purpose of the council is to serve as “the central energy policy planning body of the State and shall communicate and cooperate with federal, State and regional and local bodies and agencies to the end of effecting a coordinated energy policy.”

 In other words, a central council that will set energy policy for the state.  

But will that energy policy be balanced, reasonable and protect the interests of the consumers and taxpayers? Who are these guys that will set that policy and make these decisions?

Under the bill, 16 members would serve; two House members, two Senators and twelve appointed by the Governor (she also picks the chairman).  

The gov’s appointees would include folks with experience in the electric power industry, natural gas industry, energy policy matters (think she’ll choose someone from JLF?) alternative fuels and biofuels, energy efficient building design or construction, environmental protection, renewable energy or other energy services business, someone knowledgeable of alternative and renewable energy sources, county commissioner or city officer, someone knowledgeable in finance, business development, or technology development of energy-related business and someone with experience in low-income energy policy or weatherization.

 Notice there is no one on the Council protecting or representing the interests of the consumer or taxpayer.  Where is an economist to analyze the cost benefit of energy policy?  Who on this council will ask, how much will this cost?   

The council would develop and recommend comprehensive long-range energy policy to the Governor with special attention to “energy efficiency, renewable and alternative sources of energy, research and development into alternative energy technologies and improvements to the State’s energy infrastructure and energy economy.”  They will assess opportunities and constraints of all forms of energy and encourage use consistent with the policies they set out.  Given the make up of the council, this assessment will hardly be fair and balanced.  

The council will review and coordinate all government research, education and management programs and keep the public indoctrinated of those energy matters, emphasizing, of course what they deem important.  Finally they will make recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly for “needed” energy legislation and to recommend implementations of their energy policy plans and programs, as they consider “necessary and desirable.”

House Bill 1481 would grant the council the authority to secure from any government agency “any information it deems necessary to carry out its functions”.  Will this information also be available to the public?  How transparent will it be?  Will these be subject to the public records laws?

They may require all energy producers and major energy consumers (and they will determine who) to file reports and forecasts of energy related information (the Council deems what is necessary) to carry out their duties.  

Again, will this be transparent and why does the government have the authority to require such reporting from private industry?  Will it be abused?  The council is under the Department of Commerce.  Will the report requirements become part of the economic incentive giveaways? Will Commerce use energy policy to pick winners and loser in North Carolina’s business community?

The council can apply and utilize grants, i.e. federal stimulus money. They can also direct the Department of Commerce to give them money for energy research and related work efforts with the stipulation that “said funds be reasonably used.”  Who determines if the funds are reasonably used?  Wasn’t it state government that wasted mental health money, misused transportation paving money and somehow withheld million of dollars to crime victims?  Isn’t the legislature supposed to appropriate funds?  Do any of these people know what “reasonably used” means?

Is there oversight?  The Council will file an annual report with an overview of the statewide growth and development relating to energy use, statewide and mutli-county regional energy demand forecasts, assessment of growth trends in energy consumption and “potential adverse social, ecnonmic or environmental impacts which might be imposed by continuation of the present trends, including energy costs to consumers” (only mention of costs to consumers in the whole bill, and this is in the context of changing current energy policy), and in a public relations nod, they have to provide an analysis of the role of energy efficiency, renewable energy, improvements tot the State’s energy infrastructure, and other means in meeting the State’s current and projected energy demand.”

In an interesting note, there may be an effort to re-structure the Utilities Commission.  First, the Utilities Commission has to make its staff available to the Council.
Once the Energy Council is consolidated under the Department of Commerce, the Commerce Secretary and the Chair of the Utilities Commission have to submit a report to the Governor “examining the respective duties and functions of the Utilities Commission and the Energy Policy Council and shall recommend changes to address any duplicative activities and responsibilities.”  

All the provisions in the bill are effective as soon as it becomes law.

Bottom line:  Under the guise of consolidating and streamlining the state’s energy office, the powers and authority of government is greatly increased to set and push a renewable energy policy agenda with not so much of a nod at what it will cost consumers.  

House Bill 1481 is on the Senate calendar for Monday night at 7:00.  Audio feed is available here.


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