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Tiny agency has big role in energy debate – KansasCity.com

In cleantech, Energy, Power Grid, Science on November 1, 2009 at 11:50 am

By BARBARA BARRETT
McClatchy Newspapers


As energy increasingly dominates the economy, a quiet little agency in Washington holds the responsibility for tracking the particles that conduct, fuse, blow, heat, combust and convert the earth, wind and water into the energy that makes our society run.

The man behind the quiet data-crunching enterprise is Richard Newell, a Duke University economist and energy enthusiast.

He sits in a glass-walled office a block off the National Mall, between the president who hired him and the congressional lawmakers who hammer his numbers into policy. He visits his wife and two young daughters in North Carolina every weekend, reads massive amounts of analysis and tries to know, always, the big picture about what’s going on in the world.

Newell took over Aug. 3 as the administrator for the Energy Information Administration. Utility companies make decisions about whether to build new power plants based in part on the EIA’s long-term projections of energy use. The office is responsible for dozens of daily, weekly and monthly reports on all aspects of energy.

It tracks how much energy comes from solar, geothermal and biomass sources. It follows the production and use of coal, natural gas and petroleum. It tracks greenhouse gas emissions.

Its work can shake financial markets and propel legislation.

It does all this, by law, in a nonpartisan, neutral fashion. The only political appointee is the director: Newell.

“Energy is a part of so many aspects of our daily lives, our economy,” Newell said in an interview in his Washington office. “It’s the car you drive. It’s when you turn the lights on, drive the kids to school.”

“Environmental issues are increasing in attention and importance over the last decade or two,” he said. “So I think there’s a lot of interest on the part of policymakers and society in how we meet our energy needs in a way that allowed the economy to keep running and addresses environmental concerns. I think we can do all that.”

A friendly man with wavy hair and a fashionable beard, Newell sports just enough gray to give the 44-year-old gravitas in the very serious town of Washington. When he smiles, which is often, his eyebrows shoot above his glasses, crinkling his forehead.

The work he does at the EIA, though, is very serious.

“They’re not trying to spin the facts,” said Ron Planting, an economist at the American Petroleum Institute, an advocacy group for the oil industry in Washington. “They’re trying to gather the best data available. From their data you can get a picture of what’s happening in U.S. energy consumption.”

via Tiny agency has big role in energy debate – KansasCity.com.

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