What Is the National Commission on Energy Policy?

Published August 1, 2005

In the U.S. Senate’s recent debate over a comprehensive energy bill, New Mexico Sens. Pete V. Domenici (R) and Jeff Bingaman (D) issued media statements discussing whether policies to address alleged climate change should be incorporated into the measure. Both senators indicated their support for a proposal offered in December 2004 by the National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP).

The NCEP claims to have established “a constructive center in the often polarized debate over national energy policy.” That Republican Domenici and Democrat Bingaman both support its work might suggest a “centrist” approach. Moreover, the commission’s 16 members seem to represent a wide variety of perspectives and interests and a bipartisan flavor.

But what, exactly, is the NCEP? A little investigation reveals just another liberal advocacy group calling for more government spending and regulating.

Created by Liberal Foundations

The NCEP was not created by its 16 commissioners. It was founded in 2002 by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and four “partner” foundations: Pew Charitable Trusts, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Energy Foundation.

According to the Capital Research Center, a philanthropy watchdog organization, all five foundations fund primarily left-of-center causes. For example, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is a major contributor to the Tides Center, which is believed to funnel dollars to radical and even eco-terrorist groups, as well as the Union of Concerned Scientists, Environmental Defense Fund (now called Environmental Defense), Worldwatch Institute, and Sierra Club. None of these groups can be called moderate or bipartisan.

The Pew Charitable Trusts is even farther to the left than the Hewlett Foundation. On its scale of 1 to 8, with 1 being “radical left,” the Capital Research Center ranks Pew a 1. Besides giving millions of dollars to the Tides Center, Pew is a major funder of Ralph Nader’s Public Interest Research Group ($3,475,000 in 2001 alone) and the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund (previously the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund; $5.5 million in 2002 and $4.7 million in 2001). The director of Pew’s global warming programs is Eileen Claussen, who was President Bill Clinton’s chief negotiator on the global warming treaty.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation funds the Tides Center as well as the Earth Island Institute, a group deliberately created to make other leftist environmental groups look more moderate by comparison. According to the Earth Island Institute’s Web site, “On multiple fronts, from reproductive health to climate change to wildlife biology to air and water pollution, the Bush administration is treating science as its enemy, to be overruled and overwhelmed. The result: a blithe discounting of mounting threats to human health and the global environment.”

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Energy Foundation, the remaining founders of the NCEP, give millions of dollars a year to many of these same groups. It would be surprising if an organization created by these five foundations would advocate moderate or pro-market positions on energy and environmental policies, and indeed, the NCEP does not.

Staff Similarly Biased

Like its funders, the staff of the NCEP leans to the left. Jason Grumet, executive director of the NCEP, was previously executive director of the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), where he advocated adoption of California’s automobile emission standards, mandatory production and sale of zero-emission vehicles in the Northeast, and tighter regulation of air quality.

Deputy director Lisel Loy was Clinton’s staff secretary from 2000 to 2001. Paul W. Bledsoe, NCEP’s director of communications and strategy, was a senior vice president with Fenton Communications, the public relations firm used by the Natural Resources Defense Council to create the infamous Alar scare of 1989. Drew Kodjak, program director, worked for Grumet at NESCAUM and also is an advocate of zero-emission vehicles.

It appears that no one on the staff of NCEP has any ties or affiliations with centrist or conservative think tanks. In a climate change report the group issued in December 2004, there are no references to, or even any sign of familiarity with, the work of such non-alarmist experts as Sallie Baliunas (Harvard), Robert Mendelsohn (Yale), Richard Lindzen (MIT), Robert W. Hahn (American Enterprise Institute, Brookings Institution), Patrick Michaels (Virginia), Jay Lehr (The Heartland Institute), Bjorn Lomborg (The Skeptical Environmentalist), Robert L. Bradley Jr. (Institute for Energy Research), the late Julian Simon, and many others.

Who Are the Commissioners?

The “front office” of NCEP consists of 16 figures drawn from business, government, academia, organized labor, and environmental advocacy groups to create the appearance of diverse perspectives and interests. However, like the funders and staff of the NCEP, it appears most of them are political liberals and/or alarmist environmentalists.

  • Leo W. Gerard is international president of United Steelworkers of America, a union that (according to its Web site) worked hard for the election of John Kerry and John Edwards.
  • John P. Holdren is the Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard University. He is also one of the loudest and most alarmist voices in the U.S. environmental movement. His radical views on energy and global warming were recently the subject of a scathing report by Robert Bradley for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. According to Bradley, “Holdren … remains firmly in the alarmist camp.”
  • Sharon L. Nelson is an attorney who served as chief of consumer protection under Democrat Christine Gregoire in the office of the Washington Attorney General and is chairman of Consumers Union.
  • Ralph Cavanagh is an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a highly partisan environmental advocacy group whose Web site characterizes the first Bush term as “four years of relentless assault on the nation’s environmental protections.”
  • William K. Reilly is an attorney who served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President George H.W. Bush. Prior to that he served as head of several environmental advocacy groups.
  • F. Henry Habicht is an attorney who served as deputy administer of EPA under Reilly.
  • R. James Woolsey is an attorney who served for two years as director of the Central Intelligence Agency under Clinton.
  • Philip R. Sharp is a former Democrat U.S. Representative who coauthored the original CAFE fuel economy legislation, and who now serves as a director of Cinergy Corp., New England Power Co., and Distributed Energy Systems Corp.

The remaining members are two attorneys who served in the Department of Energy under George H.W. Bush, a Democratic politician (also an attorney) from Texas, executives or former executives with Ford, Exelon, and ConocoPhillips, and MIT scientist Mario J. Molina, whose theory that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) threaten the Earth’s ozone layer led to the global treaty banning CFCs.

The characteristics of this group of individuals that stand out are (a) nearly all of them are lawyers, (b) nearly all are liberals, and (c) nearly all stand to gain by calling for massive public subsidies to the energy industry. The group includes no non-alarmist energy scholars, taxpayer advocates, or business leaders known for taking free-market positions.

Not a Centrist Group

While it may be too strong to call the National Commission on Energy Policy a front group created by liberal foundations, the fact is that the funders and staff of the NCEP are the same folks who have polarized and politicized the debate over energy policy and the environment. Most of the commissioners, too, carry liberal and partisan credentials, making them an unlikely team to lead us back to the “center” of good public policy.

The desire to find a “constructive center” in the debate over environmental policy was not wrong, but NCEP’s execution certainly was not right.

Joseph L. Bast ([email protected]) is president of The Heartland Institute, coauthor of Eco-Sanity: A Common-Sense Guide to Environmentalism, and publisher of Environment & Climate News.