Mark Menezes, the Undersecretary of Energy at the Department of Energy, gave an optimistic, forward-looking, audience-flattering, stage-setting talk at the … [Read More...] about Deep state actors at OMB turn DOE leaders into red-faced liars. Cannot revive, revitalize and expand nuclear energy with 25% less money
California, an enormously populous and wealthy state with an outsized impact on the culture, economy and politics of the United States, has a gubernatorial election this year. Jerry Brown, who has served a total of four terms and is the son of a former two-term California governor, isn’t running for reelection due to term limits.
Michael Shellenberger has decided that he is the right person to serve as Governor of the great state of California. At this point in the campaign, even some of his biggest fans don’t give him much of a chance. He has never run for elective office and does not have a conventional political machine.
He does, however, have a substantial amount of name recognition, ever-improving oratorical skills, and a powerful message that is embodied in his campaign’s slogan “Give Change a Chance.”
His initial platform is one of opposition to corruption, support for housing crisis solutions, improvements to the educational system and – the reason his campaign rates coverage here – support for abundant clean energy that includes keeping Diablo Canyon operating, taking action to repair and restore San Onofre, and enabling the construction of new, advanced nuclear power plants.
Abundant, affordable and clean energy can provide the resources and jobs required to revive California’s Dream. A Shellenberger victory in California would have a positive impact on the future prospects of U.S. atomic energy development that would be difficult to overstate.
Shellenberger sees California as an incredible state blessed with many natural gifts, including a dynamic, diverse, progressive population. As he told Dave Rubin during a recent interview on the Rubin Report, he also believes that the political system is broken and terribly skewed in favor of the tiny slice of people at the top, some marginally effective programs for people at the bottom, and not much benefit at all for the majority of the people in the middle.
He calls the establishment Democrats “country club” liberals. He believes it is insane to have a system where just 17% of the teachers in the state can afford to buy a house near their schools. He worries about the state’s ability to continue to function at all when other public servants cannot afford to live and where even a six figure tech job enables someone to buy or rent a few hundred square feet with little left over for other expenses.
He has courageously touched the third rail of California politics by suggesting that Proposition 13 needs to be revised so that neighbors in virtually identical homes do not receive property tax bills that can differ by factors of 10 or 20 based on the time they purchased their homes.
He’s a lifelong Democrat who grew up in a religious, pacifist family that emphasized the importance of education and service. He has a lifelong love of the natural world, and was once a firmly committed Environmentalist. In recent years, he has reemphasized his humanist leanings and helped to develop a new school of thought known as Ecomodernism. Though he initially considered running for office as an independent, he has determined that he will run as a Democrat.
For those with a reasonable understanding of current California politics, it is a big stretch to imagine success for an outsider who is not already well entrenched in the Democratic machine. However, California voters enacted a law in 2010 that provides a large enough opening to enable someone like Mike to surprise everyone with an upset victory.
That law created a unique system for choosing the candidates that will appear on the November ballot. In June, there will be a primary that is open to all registered voters without respect to any declared party affiliation. All of the people who have properly registered to run by the filing deadline of March 9 and have paid all of the required fees will be listed on the ballot. Their party affiliation, if any, will be listed next to their name on the ballot.
The top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, will advance to the general election.
In such a contest, name recognition will be important, but so will the candidate’s ability to reach the voters and explain why they are the correct choice. The system offers some intriguing possibilities for people skilled in the art of attracting attention on social media platforms. Michael is a recognized star on the Internet.
EMC Research conducted a pool of likely voters at the end of February. Michael Shellenberger was number 5 on the list in terms of name recognition, which isn’t a bad start considering the large size of the field (somewhere greater than a dozen candidates) and the early stage of the formal campaign season. Of course, some of the front runners have been campaigning or positioning themselves for the office for careers lasting decades.
Mark Menezes, the Undersecretary of Energy at the Department of Energy, gave an optimistic, forward-looking, audience-flattering, stage-setting talk at the Advanced Reactor Technical Summit. At least five times during his 10-minute talk, he repeated various combinations of a phrase – “revive, revitalize and expand” – that is apparently the mantra that the Administration has chosen to describe actions it will take in the nuclear sector.
He told us that the full Administration “from President Trump to Secretary Perry, to the Energy Department staff are all committed to building a brighter future for nuclear energy.” He stroked the egos of audience members, pointing out their ingenuity, tenacity and intellectual brilliance.
He even made the following statement, which was obviously well-received by the assembled audience.
“Going forward, we must strive to revive, revitalize and expand our nuclear capacity. That was reflected in the Energy Department’s budget that we proposed last week. In it, we called for a significant increase in funding for nuclear energy, including funding for early stage R&D for advanced nuclear energy technologies, for more R&D and strategic investments in infrastructure and for the development of small modular reactors, also known as SMRs.”
Most of the audience would have had to feel terrific after that rousing introductory speech. They had traveled to College Station, Texas to talk about progress they had made, support they had attracted, and, perhaps more importantly, the obstacles remaining between them and commercial deployment of their high potential technologies. Hearing that the Administration was fully behind them, ready to make enabling investments, and committed to helping to clear the path to their objective made them sit a little straighter and smile a little brighter.
Those of us who pay close attention to wonky topics like the planning, programming and budgeting cycle, however, were more likely to be squirming in our seats. We knew that the Undersecretary wasn’t telling the truth.
Undersecretary Menezes had the unfortunate timing of giving his talk on Wednesday, Feb 21, just 9 days after the President’s Budget had been publicly released. His staff must have been too busy with higher priority activities to tone down his speech to better match the numbers in the budget. In fact, they must have been so busy – perhaps fielding questions about the budget submission – that they did not have time to remove sections that were flat out contradictions.
By inaction, they allowed the Undersecretary to – perhaps unknowingly – lie about the direction of the nuclear energy budget. There was no “significant increase in funding for nuclear energy.” In contrast, the President’s DOE budget fact sheet contained the following summary statement.
“$757M for Nuclear Energy, $259M below FY 2017 Enacted, to revive and expand the U.S. nuclear energy sector through early-stage R&D, prioritizing support for advanced manufacturing methods, instrumentation, and reactor technologies, including $54M for advanced Small Modular Reactor R&D.”
The published top level numbers (Nuclear Energy is on p. 42-43) provide the details that support the summary statement. The Integrated University Program, STEP R&D, and SMR licensing support have all been reduced to zero dollars for a total reduction of $105 M. Fuel cycle R&D, Radiological Facilities Management, Idaho Facilities Management, Program Direction, and International Nuclear Energy Cooperation all received substantial reductions, including a dramatic 71% reduction ($147.5 M) in Fuel Cycle R&D. The only line items with increases are Reactor Concepts R&D, Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies (an almost invisible $900,000) and Idaho Sitewide Safeguards and Security.
In addition to describing a 25% budget reduction as a significant increase, Undersecretary Menezes piqued my questioning attitude by mentioning that the President had ordered a “a complete review of our nation’s nuclear energy policies in order to find new ways to revitalize it.”
Though there was no formal Q&A period after the Undersecretary’s talk, Menezes was available for individual questions during the morning break. He seemed genuinely surprised to hear that the nuclear energy budget had received a reduction of 25% and not the increase that he described during his talk. He then began to allude to the tight budgets and the fact that all areas had been cut. I interrupted with the fact that renewable energy tax credits are still costing the federal government something close to $5 billion per year. That’s 5 times the total nuclear energy budget before it was cut.
He acknowledged that Congress had decided to follow through on its commitment from previous years and that the President had signed the deal. He challenged the number I quoted and told me he was pretty sure it wasn’t anywhere close to that amount.
The complete review ordered by the President turned out to be a big hurdle during the budget battle. Apparently OMB career staffers felt that they needed to wait until the review was complete before they could align the budget request to provide resources for whatever programs the review identified. The fact that the review was specifically supposed to identify new ways to revitalize nuclear energy did not sway them into requesting more money, even as a “placeholder.”
More money cannot ensure success, but deep cuts in resources can virtually guarantee failure and loss of experienced experts.
Someone told me that Washington’s best kept secret is the fact that OMB is the final decision maker for Administration programs, not the Presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed Cabinet Secretaries.
As my source concluded, “The so-called “deep state” is alive and well, goes by the name OMB, and resides at the Eisenhower and New Executive Office Buildings.”
That’s not a new discovery for someone who spent 9 years fighting budget battles inside the Beltway. The amount of power held by spreadsheet warriors is almost unfathomable, which is why it is beneficial to include experienced political professionals in any effort to make real change.
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