If there is anything worse than an Administration that hides its wrongdoings, it is one that also suppresses its right thoughts. The Nixon White House is doing just that, first by sitting on a report entitled Energy Conservation by its Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) and then, after a trade journal obtained a copy through a leak, severely restricting the public’s access to it.
It is not difficult to understand why the White House is sensitive about the contents of this study. Dated July 1972, this 230-page factual analysis shows how the consumer and homeowner can save billions of dollars a year through a proposed national policy to require more efficient use of petroleum and other energy fuels. Such a policy, of course, would discomfort powerful vested interests like the petroleum, automobile, trucking and other industries. And in an election year, the way the Nixon men interpret it, political pragmatism means not making big corporations angry over any prospects of reduced sales by reducing waste.
The context of the report is the so-called energy crisis which the fuels industry defines as skyrocketing demand confronting inadequate supplies. The more national hysteria which these companies can generate with distorted and incomplete facts, the more they are likely to prevail in raising their prices and obtaining government tax and other subsidies in developing and bringing fuel supplies to market. These companies also hope to grab greater control over government-owned petroleum reserves through favorable leases, weaker environmental controls and, most immediately, new offshore drilling, especially off the Atlantic coast.
A consumer-oriented view, put forth in this restricted OEP study, is to apply known or knowable ways by which consumers can save money, be exposed to less pollution and still obtain the electricity and fuel they want. This is the most modest approach -‑ one that reduces energy demand without reducing even non-essential service.
In showing how U.S. energy demand by 1980 can be reduced by as much as the equivalent of 7.3 million barrels of oil a day (at an estimated annual value of $10.7 billion), the OEP report declares:
“The most significant realizable measures to effect conservation are:
a) improved insulation in homes,
b) development of more efficient air conditioners,
c) shift of intercity freight from highway to rail, intercity passengers from air to ground travel and urban passengers from automobiles to mass transit and freight consolidation in urban freight movement and, d) introduction of more efficient industrial processes and equipment.”
The OEP study group poured much detail into their findings and relied considerably on materials produced by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory — National Science Foundation Environmental Program. The assumptions of the study did not rest on inconveniencing travelers, shippers or the consumer but on showing how modern mass transit systems, more efficient automobile engines and other rational alternatives will attract users and consumers.
One calculation of OEP’s conclusions is that the fuel savings can reduce the projected reliance on imported oil in 1980 by two-thirds.
Since the full report has been leaked to a few trade and press sources in Washington, the White House finds its delayed publication plans in a dilemma. Originally, the schedule was to release the report after the election. A few weeks ago, sizeable sections of the annual report of the Executive Office of the President -‑ Council on Environmental Quality were deleted because of their mild criticism of certain industries. What do you think the bureaucrats are planning to do now?
OEP official Robert H. Kupperman answers this question by saying the report will be printed by the Government Printing Office and then released. When will that be? Sometime in November by his estimate.
But the report is out, however unofficially, and special interests are copying the leaked copies. Why, he is asked, can’t consumer and environmental groups obtain copies from the OEP at their own expense? The OEP’s reply will add to the classic caricature of politicized bureaucracy. Any citizen, it says, can come to its Washington office and copy the report by hand, but xeroxing or photocopying is prohibited. So there you are, all you concerned, tax-paying people from Maine to California and Michigan to Florida.