How Did DOE Waste Half a $Billion on Carbon Capture? - Bob Bauman, former federal federal investigator
As the federal government gears up to spend new climate money, it is vital to look at some of the failures in the past. This is especially true with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) since the DOE announced last week that it plans to spend a whopping $3.5 billion on four new carbon capture demonstration plants. This week we meet with Bob Bauman, a veteran government investigator and auditor, to discuss how the Department of Energy (DOE) wasted nearly half a billion dollars on failed carbon capture and storage (CSS) technology demonstration projects in the past.
The failed CSS projects are described in a report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in December 2021 called CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE: Actions Needed to Improve DOE Management of Demonstration Projects. CCS is a controversial technology with an unproven past and this GAO report is another cautionary tale on how climate money can be wasted away. As most in the climate community knows, we do not have time for do-overs and waste.
Bob uses his 30+ years as a government investigator to explain how this kind of waste occurs, and what it portends for the $3.5 billion the Department of Energy recently announced they're investing on behalf of U.S. taxpayers in CSS projects. Bob is the former partner of CMW Executive Director Dina Rasor in the Bauman & Rasor Group. They worked together on various federal fraud and waste projects for 27 years, espeically in bringing qui tam False Claims lawsuits on behalf of whistleblowers that returned over $200 million to the federal government and authored two investigative books together. Before running the Bauman and Rasor Group, Bob worked as an investigator for the federal government for 36 years including 12 years for the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS).
There seems to be interest in our national electric grid only when it is damaged with major blackouts due to weather or hacking. Many overlook that very little of the ambitious efforts to move to 100 percent renewable energy or the change over to electric vehicles can't successfully work without an expanded and smarter grid. This is a foundation for the new world of climate change that we have to get right and use the money wisely or climate mitigation will slow or fail.
So this week we're joined by Mark Dyson, Managing Director for Carbon-Free Electricity at the Rocky Mountain Institute to discuss his recent report, Reimagining Grid Resilience. Mark describes how investing in distributed energy resources, such as "behind-the-meter" photovoltaic solar panels both do more to improve the resilience of the grid and provide carbon and cost reduction benefits when everything is operating well. These "blue sky" benefits pay dividends around the clock and around the year. On the other hand, "hardening" against outages ("black sky") only provides benefits when systems would otherwise be malfunctioning. Such vulnerabilities to the grid itself do exist, as were demonstrated by the 2013 Metcalf sniper attack in the United States and the 2015 Ukraine power grid hack, but efficiency, insulation, and residential wind and solar represent far greater potential.
Mark also comments on the thoughtfulness of grid funding programs that are part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, including Energy Improvement in Rural Areas, Preventing Outages and Enhancing the Resilience of the Electric Grid / Hazard Hardening, Program Upgrading Our Electric Grid and Ensuring Reliability and Resiliency and the Smart Grid Investment Matching Grant Program.
Solyndra: A Cautionary Tale - Eric Thorson, former Inspector General of the U.S. Treasury Department
As many environmentalist know, fraud, abuse and waste can be a killer for important government programs and be used by climate antagonists, such as U.S. Senator Barrasso, as an excuse to limit spending on the climate crisis. Soylyndra, a federal loan guarantee program to manufacture solar panels during the Obama Administration was one such project. Senator Barrasso released a report last year using Solyndra as an excuse to not fund future climate projects. Although the federal loan program under Obama's Recovery Act overall ended up making the federal government more money than what they spent, the government lost $535 million when Solyndra went bankrupt.
This week the Climate Money Watchdog podcast will talk with Eric Thorson, the former Inspector General for the Department of Treasury, who actually did oversight on the Solyndra project. He sees the Solyndra failure as waste because the federal government, in a hurry to get the money spent and jobs created, did not do the due diligence on the project. In this podcast episode, he explains this and other reasons that federal programs can fail, before and after the government loans or appropriates the money. He also explains oversight needed before a project is approved and what to do if there is a problem after has started. Since the current climate money programs will include partnerships with state, local and private industry, the process is complicated and needs constant oversight all the entities involved, including informed and active climate advocates.
Eric Thorson served as the Inspector General of the U.S. Treasury through three presidents; George W. Bush, Barrack Obama, and Donald Trump. He also worked as an investigator for two U.S. Senate committees, served as the Inspector General for U.S. Small Business Administration as well as serving twice as Deputy Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Air Force. Eric also ran his own small business for executive jet services. He is currently an Executive Partner at the William and Mary College School of Business.
We hope that you will listen to this informative episode either through this website or you podcast portal of choice and will inform other climate people about this podcast episode on social media.
This week's episode of the Climate Money Watchdog's podcast features a long time environmental leader in local government. John Gioia (joy-a) is county supervisor for California's Contra Costa County representing 210,000 people in the San Francisco East Bay area, right across the Bay from San Francisco. He was elected in 1998 and has been re-elected five times with high margins. He has had many years of official work on environmental issues, including serving on regional government boards such as the California Air Resources Board, the Bay Area Quality Management District Board, the Bay Area Conservation and Development Board and is Vice Chair of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority. This work has led him to have extensive experience working with state and federal funding at a local level and why we asked him to do a podcast episode with us to talk about ups and downs of working with all the requirements and issues that state and federal environmental funding bring to local government entities.
In this episode, we have wide ranging discussions of various issues that will be raised with increased climate and environmental funding. This includes a detailed discussion on the many complications of federal spending for electric vehicle charging stations. Publicly funded EV charging stations is one of the larger programs in the recently passed federal infrastructure law with $7.5 billion appropriated and $5 billion of that amount going to the states. This is one of the programs that Climate Money Watchdog is watching because of the amount of the funding mixed with the complexity of local, state and federal governments working together. Supervisor Gioia gives great insight to the complex issues that arise for local governments to make these types of appropriations a success.
Supervisor Gioia grew up in the diverse city of Richmond, California and has a BA degree from the University of California, Berkeley where he also earned a law degree.
We hope that you will listen to this unique episode with a local government official who brings up issues that many in the national climate movement may not have thought about. Supervisor Gioia is my county supervisor and I look forward to his advice as we continue to follow and investigate on how the climate money is spent.
Dina Rasor, Executive Director of Climate Money Watchdog.