Grantee Report on Trump Administration Suppressing Energy Study Leads to Its Release — and Reveals Much Wider Pattern

Peter Fairley broke national news when he reported for InvestigateWest and The Atlantic that the Trump Administration was blocking the release of a study showing that modernizing the U.S. power grid could reduce reliance on coal and increase the growth of renewable energy.

With a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, Fairley reported that a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) study, known as Seams, showed that a “supergrid” capable of shipping bulk power across the U.S. would accelerate the growth of renewable energy. But, as Fairley reported, the study was politically dangerous territory for a federally funded lab while coal-industry advocates — and climate change deniers — reigned at the White House. Officials at the Department of Energy removed key references in the study to coal and CO2, and the report sat unreleased for two years.

Weeks after Fairley’s report was published, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology urged the DOE to release the Seams study and to post its findings online. In her letter to DOE, Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) wrote, “The Department’s efforts to suppress this study as reported in the media suggest a number of violations of your own Scientific Integrity Policy.” In late September, the House passed legislation with an amendment requiring DOE to release the study within 30 days. 

In October, the Trump Administration finally released the report. Advocates credit Fairley’s report for bringing national attention to the issue.

Days after the report was released, Fairley uncovered a larger pattern: At least 40 other studies on clean energy have been buried. Fairley obtained emails and documents and interviewed more than a dozen current or former officials, and he found that the studies have been replaced with presentations, buried in scientific journals that the public cannot access, or held from release.  

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology again wrote to the Secretary of Energy, calling this “an apparently persistent issue” and expanding the committee’s formal request of DOE. The committee is now asking DOE for a briefing on its review process for reports and a timeline for releasing reports that are in the pipeline.