Former DOE official would abolish agency, he says in new book

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 26, 2012 

Bob Ferguson, a former Department of Energy official, makes the case for abolishing DOE in his new book released Tuesday.

"It's an agency that basically has no focus," said Ferguson, who splits his time between homes in Richland and Oregon.

Not only is DOE too diverse for anyone to lead effectively, it also has been politicized, and that has become institutionalized, he said.

The Cost of Deceit and Delay was not the book he started out to write with the help of science writer Sallie Ortiz, he said.

He was writing about his nuclear experience with recommendations for getting the nuclear renaissance back on track, when President Obama announced the termination of the Yucca Mountain, Nev., project to develop a repository for used commercial nuclear waste and high-level radioactive defense waste.

That led to a book that describes what he calls the unlawful termination of the Yucca Mountain project and uses it as an example of the cost of not holding the nation's highest elected officials accountable to the law.

He feels so strongly about the issue that he filed an ongoing lawsuit against the Department of Energy in federal court after enlisting Tri-City business leaders Bill Lampson and Gary Petersen to join him. The state of Washington now also is a plaintiff in the suit.

Ferguson worked in the nuclear field for 50 years, including as DOE deputy assistant secretary for nuclear energy and former managing director of what is now Energy Northwest. He also has been a Tri-City entrepreneur.

He believes the Obama administration formed the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future after terminating the Yucca Mountain project to appease dissenters and stall for more time to shut down the project and its licensing review.

But the commission's final report made recommendations that backfired on Obama, Ferguson said. It pulled together the best of past recommendations "into a comprehensive strategy to build a new nuclear waste management program," Ferguson wrote in his book, which is self published.

The Obama administration has not acted on the recommendations, nor does Ferguson believe it intends to act. The costs of inaction continue to build as utilities sue for the costs to temporarily store used nuclear fuel, with some sites projected to spend $100 million, Ferguson said.

One of the Blue Ribbon Commission's recommendations is to transfer the civilian nuclear waste program out of DOE and into a new independent federal corporation. That triggers an opportunity to transfer all of the essential missions out of DOE and abolish it, Ferguson said.

DOE was created by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 to reduce the United States' dependency on imported oil and combined an array of programs, including nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, into a cabinet-level agency.

Since then, DOE has grown to employ more than 16,000 federal staff managing more than 100,000 contractor employees with an annual budget of $29.9 billion, Ferguson wrote.

"Yet the nation is more dependent on foreign oil now than it was when the DOE was created 35 years ago," he wrote.

Over those years it has "embraced an energy policy of drift" as DOE and presidents since Carter have "produced nothing more than a haphazard array of incoherent policies," he wrote.

Reorganization is not the answer, he said. It will not protect DOE from further interference by the current administration or the next, he wrote in the book.

He proposes removing the civilian nuclear waste program and the nuclear weapons program from DOE and then forming a non-cabinet level organization for essential energy programs such as ensuring the security of energy supply and performing applied research and development of new energy technologies.

"I'm hoping the book will create an opportunity for open and honest debate that is based not on politics, but economics and science," he said.

The book can be purchased at www.amazon.com or www.createspace.com/3419636 for $17.95.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com

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