Disposition of Funds Obtained by DOE Through a Consent Order

B-202380: Published: Apr 28, 1981. Publicly Released: Apr 28, 1981.

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The proposed disposition of Vickers Energy Corporation settlement funds by the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Enforcement is not in compliance with DOE authority to order restitution as interpreted by GAO. The only specific grant of restitutionary power is limited to actions which can be taken by the United States District Courts. DOE authority is limited to ordering a violator of its regulations to make refunds to the customers it had overcharged. There is no authority granted to DOE to promote the interests of consumers in general through direct payments to them or through grants made on their behalf to states or other entities. There is no authority to expend these funds by making grants to state and local public utilities for the eventual distribution to energy consumers who may also happen to have been consumers of products sold by the firm, as is proposed. DOE can effect restitution only to injured consumers of oil company products and not to energy consumers in general. Innovative relief measures, such as the one at issue, must be created by Congress through the appropriation process. Lacking this authority, DOE can only deposit the funds in the Treasury to be held for a period of time for the benefit of possible claimants, and ultimately to be placed in the general fund. Inaction by Congress cannot be interpreted as ratification of DOE interpretations of its own regulations.

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