Sarah Palin is already picking out a job for herself in the forthcoming Donald Trump administration. She'd like to run the Department of Energy for a brief period, before abolishing it.
Sounds promising! Except for one tiny little catch — it's not clear she even knows what the department does. Here's what she told CNN:
"I think a lot about the Department of Energy, because energy is my baby: oil and gas and minerals, those things that God has dumped on this part of the Earth for mankind’s use instead of us relying on unfriendly foreign nations."
"I'd get rid of it. And I'd let the states start having more control over the lands that are within their boundaries and the people who are affected by the developments within their states. If I were in charge of that, it would be a short-term job, but it would be really great to have someone who knows energy and is pro-responsible development to be in charge."
Palin is talking about the fact that the federal government owns billions of acres of land and coastal waters, containing quite a bit of oil, gas, and coal. Industry groups have long complained that President Obama hasn't opened up nearly as much of this land to drilling as they'd like. And a few (fringe) groups out West have even demanded that this land be transferred to the states.
Except this really has nothing to do with the Department of Energy, which mainly oversees the nation's nuclear weapons program — a task consuming nearly half its budget — runs the national labs, and conducts energy R&D.
What Palin wants is the Department of Interior, which oversees the vast majority of federal lands. They're the ones handling leases for coal mining or fracking on public lands, through the Bureau of Land Management, or supervising offshore oil and gas drilling, through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. If you wanted to devolve federal lands back to the states, you'd focus on Interior, not Energy.
Anyway, even if Palin did become Cabinet secretary, she couldn't just abolish a department on her own. That would require an act of Congress. But it sounds like Interior should be the agency she "thinks a lot" about.
-- Note that other conservatives have been pushing to abolish the Department of Energy over the years, which is probably where Palin got this idea. But the best arguments here usually center on streamlining bureaucracy, not whatever Palin's referring to. So it's worth asking anyone proposing abolition what they'd like to do with all the programs within the department (the naval nuclear propulsion program, nuclear weapons safety testing, the national research labs, and so on). Just to see if they know what they're talking about.
-- The Los Angeles Times recently ran a good piece on the mostly quixotic push in the West to return federal lands back to the states. One key line: "Legal and economic scholarship on Utah's transfer bill concludes that the federal land transfer is never going to happen, and if public lands were indeed somehow given to the states, the result would be a financial disaster."