US Energy Reporting Cutbacks Dismay Data Fans

You may not need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but if you are a builder seeking information about energy consumption by building type, or an energy specialist in search of data for future oil and gas reserves and supplies, you may be out of luck. After a $15.2 million budget cut, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) imposed “significant cuts in data, analysis and forecasting activities" according to EIA Administrator Richard Newell. The immediate cuts, which became effective April 26, include:

- Cancellation of the 2011 US oil and natural gas reserves report
- Ending its study of the links between energy markets and financial trading, including the effect of speculation on the price of oil
- Ending its annual report on solar thermal systems
- Ending auditing of information submitted by major oil and gas companies
- Ending work on its Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), the main
source builders use for information on energy consumption in commercial buildings
- Ending analysis and reporting of planned refinery outage market impacts
- Cancelling the 2012 edition of the EIA International Energy Outlook
- Ceasing to publish its annual inventory of US greenhouse emissions
- Curtailing its ability to do special analyses for Congress
- Closed customer contact centers telephone support as of June 6.

The loss of CBECS data, to be issued every four years, affects users of all types of energy use information for the US commercial building stock. In addition to cancelling the 2011 report, the previous 2007 report was withheld due to insufficient statistical standards, leaving builders to rely on 2003 numbers.

The CBECS information supports a variety of energy efficiency standards including the green building LEEDs rating and Energy Star planning tools. "How are we going to know how well we're doing" without new data, said New Buildings Institute Technical Director Mark Frankel. "It's dismaying. There's more interest now in actual building performance than there has ever been before."

More Difficult to Address Energy Challenges

In response to the announced cuts, US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Jeff Bingaman said "Right now, Americans need that sort of objective information more than ever". He called the EIA one of few credible unprejudiced sources of oil
and gas price information. "How does it benefit us to force the EIA to stop collecting information on oil and gasoline proven reserves and prices; to curtail its analyses of the linkages between financial and physical energy markets, or to end its review and analysis of international energy trends?" Bingaman asked. "These cuts just make it that much more difficult to chart a national energy policy that addresses real challenges."

The cessation of national surveys collecting information on energy investment and usage is a barrier to achieving future energy efficiency, because it removes the yardstick by which improvements are measured. As the energy transition of the next twenty to forty years unfolds, we need to know how and where to put energy investments. The investment world hates uncertainty and the lack of new energy data threatens to curtail energy efficiency investment. Manufacturers, facility administrators, municipal governments, all will be operating without the information they need to make key operating decisions.

A Greater Pound of Flesh

The truth is that America does not have an energy policy to guide us towards a transition from foreign fuel sources and non-renewable power generation technology to an era of renewable sources. Neal Elliot, Associate Director for Research at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy said of the EIA budget cuts "All pounds of flesh are not created equal.” Working with State and local governments, he says “One of our biggest challenges is bridging data gaps. EIA is a key source of information we are dependent on, and budget cuts are just going to make things worse because operating in the dark is not a good place to be.

"Congratulations to those policymakers who thought that cutting the EIA budget would be wise" wrote Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow on energy and the environment Michael Levi. "You've managed to lose a few ounces of weight by removing a small sliver of your brain."

When an entity ages, it loses feeling in its extremities. It becomes insensitive to information from the outside world. It circles its internal wagons around the self, with increasing disregard for what is occurring outside. Every time a statistical office is shut, an information-gathering agency or administration is decommissioned, the organization has less awareness of the world around it. Read the list of cuts again and see how you feel about your Energy Information Administration cutting back on its reporting mission.

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I am a Seattle-based writer. Energy efficiency and the achievement of human potential are my goals. I have worked as a legislative aide and a database manager, and recently started building a money- and energy-saving household goods online store featuring sensible and affordable home environment solutions including ENERGY STAR qualified products. Contact: Twitter: @Greenbespoke @SaveWattsatHome