[Review of DOE Legal Opinion on the Duration of the Residential Conservation Service Program]
B-205365, Jun 3, 1985
In response to a congressional request, a legal opinion was provided on the legal status and the duration of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Residential Conservation Service Program. The program requires each large natural gas or electric utility to undertake the following energy conservation functions for its residential customers: (1) the announcement of the energy conservation program; (2) inspection, assistance in installation of conservation measures, and loan acquisition assistance; and (3) the provision of information on energy conservation dealers and lending institutions. The National Energy Conservation Policy Act provided that the program announcement duties would terminate on January 1, 1985; however, the legislation contains no termination date for the other functions. DOE has taken the position that the termination date for the entire program is the date provided in the legislation for program announcement termination. However, GAO believes that this position is premised on a fundamental error of statutory construction and is not sufficiently reasonable to be accepted by a reviewing court. Furthermore, the legislative history reveals no indication that the timeframes established for the goal of the insulation of 90 percent of all American homes and new buildings was intended to set the duration of the other programs. In addition, GAO found that the legislative history of the Energy Tax Act did not suggest that the termination of the program was linked to the termination of energy tax credits. Accordingly, GAO found that, with the exception of the program announcement duties, the program remains legally in effect until terminated by future legislation.