Memo to Trump: Don’t Eliminate Vital Public Information About Energy Industry

Members of President-Elect Donald Trump’s transition team are promoting a terrible idea: eliminating a critical source of public information about the energy industry, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

“This is one of the worst ideas yet from Trump’s team of advisors,” said Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project.  “The recent surge of ‘fake news’ has already undermined respect for factual evidence, making it harder to reason our way through disputes and find common ground. Let’s not make it worse by eliminating the Energy Information Administration, one of the most publicly accessible and trustworthy sources of data that we have today.”

The proposal to eliminate EIA was reported today (Dec. 16) in Energywire, which said the idea came from the conservative Heritage Foundation, whose members are advising the Trump transition.

The Heritage Foundation’s “Blueprint for Reform,” recommends that the incoming administration “eliminate or privatize the Energy Information Administration.”

In the blueprint, Heritage concedes the high quality of the data that EIA publishes about the energy industry for all to see.  But Heritage argues that Congress doesn’t need information on energy markets to make decisions about energy policy, and that investors and the federal government can buy whatever data  they need from private sources.

“But private investors aren’t the federal government’s only customers, and the EIA is important because it does much more than analyze market trends,” said Schaeffer.

Visit EIA’s website and you’ll find a treasure trove of data on actual production rates for fossil fuels and renewable energy, changes in the product mix from refineries, oil and gas output from unconventional drilling, how much energy we import and export (and from which countries), the productivity of coal mines, how utilities dispose of coal ash and the quality of their fuels, how much electricity we get from wind and solar, and much more.

“This data is based on reports that EIA obtains from industry and other sources on a systematic basis,” Schaeffer said.  “The EIA has the authority to collect such information and to assure that it is both accurate and complete.  Private investors do not.  And the notion that Congress should shape energy policies that affect everyone’s pocketbook based solely on the data that private sources choose to share is alarming.”

The EIA database also gives the public a way to test the truth of the arguments (or sound-bites) that are batted around when energy policies are debated.  For example, we’ve heard much about how environmental laws have interfered with shale gas development.  EIA’s webpage will tell you how fast gas production has grown in the last few years – ten fold in Pennsylvania, which is now the country’s second largest producer.

“The Heritage Foundation has every right to argue that’s not fast enough,” said Schaeffer. “But please allow the rest of us draw our own conclusions, based on reasonably accurate information that everyone has the right to see.”