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Inside the GOP probe of IEA

IEA director Fatih Birol

The IEA's Fatih Birol speaks in February. Photo: Ian Langsdon/AFP via Getty Images

The GOP is trying to pressure the International Energy Agency, a world-renowned authority on energy data, into moderating its work on the energy transition.

Why it matters: The IEA fight is, at its core, about whether the Paris-based intergovernmental research organization's projections are reliable when it comes to that transition.

Catch up quick: House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Senate ENR Ranking Member John Barrasso wrote a blistering letter to IEA head Fatih Birol before lawmakers left for recess.

  • "Excessive focus on an 'energy transition' … has led the IEA to veer away from objectively informing and educating policymakers," the letter says.

Driving the news: GOP lawmakers have "a lot of concerns about funding" the IEA, per one Republican staffer who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

  • The staffer told Axios that Republicans prefer the Energy Information Administration — a U.S. data-only office within the Energy Department — which he said doesn't "look at wishful thinking or wishful scenarios."
  • Along with questions about forecasts, the lawmakers' letter asks how much U.S. funding went to the IEA over a decade, as well as a "line-item breakdown of all IEA expenditures" with the "U.S. share of expenditures."
  • The U.S. is the largest contributing nation to the OECD, within whose financial framework the IEA operates. OECD contributions are dictated by the relative size of a country's economy.

Behind the scenes: The Biden administration's decision to pause new permits for LNG export terminals helped prompt the letter, GOP staffers said.

  • It's also a dig at DOE deputy secretary David Turk, IEA's former deputy executive director.

What they're saying: One advocate for scrutinizing the IEA is Bob McNally, a George W. Bush–era energy adviser who runs consulting firm Rapidan Energy.

  • His critical Wall Street Journal op-ed was a prelude to GOP investigations.
  • "Among energy experts, it was a widely discussed and deeply held view that the IEA is off the rails," McNally told Axios.

The other side: IEA officials didn't respond to a request for comment. But an agency official in February dismissed McNally's call for "policy neutral" scenarios.

  • "The moment we assume that country X is not renewing a policy — saying that policies are frozen today — is itself a choice," Laura Cozzi, the agency's director of sustainability, technology and outlooks, told Bloomberg News.

The big picture: There's some irony in how, for years, climate activists criticized the institution for allegedly underselling the odds of an energy transition, said Morgan Bazilian, director of the Colorado School of Mines' Payne Institute for Public Policy.

  • The GOP letter is "more performative in the sense that they're expressing their narrative, and just a few years ago, it was basically the exact opposite," he said.

Our thought bubble: The GOP effort echoes the anti-ESG strategy Republicans used against BlackRock and other large financial institutions. Just replace "fiduciary duty" with "energy security mandate."

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