Clean Air Villain of the Month

December 2000


(Washington, D.C. December 6, 2000) - The nonprofit Clean Air Trust today awarded its clean air "Villains of the Month" award for December to the "faceless bureaucrats" of the U.S. Department of Energy.

The "faceless bureaucrats" (including various "policy advisors" and "senior policy advisors") earned this dubious distinction by launching a nasty, behind-the-scenes campaign to disrupt the U.S. EPA's plan to eliminate most of the sulfur from diesel fuel by mid-2006. Removing sulfur from the fuel is the key to dramatically cleaner diesel trucks and buses because sulfur poisons high-technology pollution control devices.

The faceless ones at DOE launched a costly bureaucratic war against EPA earlier this year, charging that the EPA proposal would cause unnecessary billions of cleanup dollars to be spent. The faceless bureaucrats are pedaling a rival plan that would only phase in a tiny fraction of cleaner fuel initially, leaving poisonous sulfur in most highway diesel fuel.

In the process, the faceless bureaucrats appear to be adopting some of the bizarre jargon used by oil industry opponents of EPA's plan. For example, they refer to clean diesel fuel as "overproduction" -- proving, perhaps, that George Orwell is alive and well at DOE.

There are several problems with this faceless scheme:

  • For starters, it appears motivated more by petty bureaucratic concerns of revenge and turf than by anything else. (The faceless bureaucrats tried last year to meddle in an EPA proposal to remove sulfur from gasoline, but they lost that battle.) There has also been speculation in the business press that some of these "advisors" may be trolling for jobs in the oil industry.
  • Second, these faceless bureaucrats can't get their math straight. They made a multi-billion-dollar goof in analyzing the EPA proposal.
  • Even worse, they don't consider the full costs of their scheme, which, in effect, would require two fuels -- one clean, one dirty. That means pipelines, terminals, bulk plants, and diesel fuel tanker trucks would have to spend billions to handle two fuels.
  • There are at least a dozen other good reasons why these faceless bureaucrats are wrong, including: their dual-fuel scheme would be a nightmare for truck-stop operators; it could tempt truckers to use cheaper, dirtier fuel that would ruin their pollution control systems; it would delay investment in cleaner diesel technologies, and would lead to unnecessary emissions from existing trucks -- meaning we'd all be exposed to higher levels of toxic truck and bus pollution; and it could lead to regional and/or local supply shortages and price spikes.

Obviously there are legitimate economic reasons why EPA might want to ease requirements for some small refiners -- a step that could be taken without subjecting the whole nation to a dual-fuel scheme.

But the agitation of the faceless bureaucrats on this issue could lend weight to those who want to abolish the Department of Energy. After all, the big oil companies seem to do pretty well advocating their own interests without help from those on the government payroll.