This Is What a Weatherized Economy Looks Like


Remember how Joe Biden and the Obama administration were going to lead us to a "Recovery Through Retrofit"? (Yes, that's really what these people called it.) We were skeptical then, and we were right. From Newsweek's Daniel Stone:

This summer, federal inspectors made a routine visit to 11 homes in St. Louis to see what taxpayers got for the $5 billion that President Obama spent to help Americans weatherize their homes to save energy.

What they found was quite a surprise. Some of the energy-efficient furnaces installed at taxpayer expense spewed carbon monoxide that could poison occupants. New water heaters lacked required pressure valves, putting them in jeopardy of exploding. And a handful of contractors—unfamiliar with the nuances of specialized weatherization work—had used air blowers in homes with asbestos, potentially dispersing the cancer-causing agent, according to several Energy Department inspector-general reports.

As it closes in on retrofitting 600,000 homes, the government's weatherization program—a key element of President Obama's green-energy initiative—has had its share of happy, energy-saving customers. But it has also been riddled with problems. In one review, Energy Department investigators found that 14 percent of weatherization projects surveyed, from Tennessee to West Virginia, failed to meet safety or quality standards. Many customers were poor or elderly, with few resources to pursue wayward contractors.

It turned out that as so much money was being spent so quickly, a lot of state and local governments, as well as contractors, simply weren't ready for the job at hand. "You don't have trained people to do those jobs in places like Arizona or Florida," says Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Board and Obama's handpicked watchdog to oversee stimulus spending. "It turned into a cottage industry." A senior Energy Department official agreed: "We were clearly not ready to take all this money, especially at the state level."

Whole thing, including some plaudits for the administration, here.

Back when the cool kids were taking stock of liberal-hawk overreach in the aftermath of the Iraq War, Sam Rosenfeld and Matthew Yglesias coined a useful phrase as a way of looking at the debate: "The incompetence dodge." The idea was that Iraq War supporters who blamed the post-invasion mess on the Bush administration's execution were not taking full responsibility for what was a flawed notion in the first place. In a similar spirit, I submit that it's incumbent that every Joe, Nancy, and Van who blew smoke up the nation's arse about "five million green jobs" step away from Zuccotti Park for just one moment, remember all that highfalutin' talk about how the other guys were waging a "war on science," and then acknowledge that a cherished plank in the Democratic Party's agenda has been, from the get-go, the domestic policy equivalent of assuming that Iraqis would greet us with flowers and chocolates in a Velvet Revolution-style celebration.

Like math, clean-energy policy is actually pretty hard work. Read Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey's cover package from the June 2009 issue for what should have been the beginning of a rational conversation.

Reason on weatherization follies from 2009, 2010, and 2011.