What Does Sarah Palin Have Against the Department of Energy?


Sarah Palin says she wants to eliminate the Department of Energy. This is a perennial conservative hobbyhorse, so let’s dig in a little bit. Just what does this bureaucratic tax sinkhole do, anyway? Here’s a brief summary:

Program Cost Comment
Nuclear weapons R&D and cleanup $18 billion Can’t do without this, can we?
National laboratories (Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, Yucca Mountain, etc.) $5 billion This is mostly basic science, including accelerators, fossil/nuclear/renewable energy research, and nuclear waste disposal. I don’t think Palin has anything against this, does she?
Dams and hydro power $0 Does Palin want to sell off all the dams we built over the past century? If not, we might as well pay for their upkeep by selling the hydro power they generate.
Energy efficiency $3 billion Perhaps this is what she wants to cut? Republicans hate energy efficiency.
Miscellaneous $3 billion Good luck finding anything of substance to get rid of here.

Hmmm. There might be some bits and pieces that Republicans object to here, but not much. So why all the hate for the Energy Department? Is it just because it was created by Jimmy Carter? Nah. Who would be childish enough to hold a grudge like that?

In any case, even Republicans agree that we need to do the vast majority of this stuff. So even if Palin managed to kill off the Department of Energy, its functions would just get dispersed to other departments. Would that make any difference? I suppose it means one less chair at cabinet meetings, but it’s hard to see the point otherwise.

One intriguing possibility, raised by Brad Plumer, is that Palin was actually thinking of the Interior Department. He makes a good case. But Palin told Jake Tapper, “I think a lot about the Department of Energy, because energy is my baby.” That being so, it seems unlikely she’d make a mistake so boneheaded. Right?

POSTSCRIPT: It’s worth noting that this is the same con behind nearly every call to eliminate the Department of ______. It sounds dynamic! It cuts the budget! It slashes red tape!

But departments don’t matter. Functions matter, and they just go somewhere else if their department is eliminated. Unless a presidential candidate is willing to specify exactly which functions they want to defund, they aren’t serious. They’re just hawking snake oil to the rubes.