Surprising documents made available to this author reveal that Assistant Secretary of Energy Cathy Zoi has a huge financial stake in companies likely to profit from the Obama administrationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“greenÃ¢â‚¬Â policies.
Zoi, who left her position as CEO of the Alliance for Climate Protection Ã¢â‚¬â€ founded by Al Gore Ã¢â‚¬â€ to serve as assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, now manages billions in Ã¢â‚¬Å“green jobsÃ¢â‚¬Â funding. But the disclosure documents show that Zoi not only is in a position to affect the fortunes of her previous employer, ex-Vice President Al Gore, but that she herself has large holdings in two firms that could directly profit from policies proposed by the Department of Energy.
Among ZoiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s holdings are shares in Serious Materials, Inc., the previously sleepy, now bustling, friend of the Obama White House whose public policy operation is headed by her husband. Between them, Zoi and her husband hold 120,000 shares in Serious Materials, as well as stock options. Reporter John Stossel has already explored what he sees as the Ã¢â‚¬Å“crony capitalismÃ¢â‚¬Â implied by Zoi being so able to influence the fortunes of a company to which she is so closely associated.
In addition, the disclosure forms reflect that Zoi holds between $250,000 and $500,000 in Ã¢â‚¬Å“founders sharesÃ¢â‚¬Â in Landis+Gyr, a Swiss Ã¢â‚¬Å“smart meterÃ¢â‚¬Â firm. She also still owns between $15,000 and $50,000 in ordinary shares.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Smart meters,Ã¢â‚¬Â put simply, are electric meters that return information about customer power usage to the power company immediately and allow a power company to control the amount of power a customer can consume. These smart meters are a central component of the Obama administrationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s plans to reduce electricity consumption as part of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“smart grid.Ã¢â‚¬Â
In a rare moment of candor, Obama Ã¢â‚¬Å“Energy CzarÃ¢â‚¬Â Carol Browner said to US News & World Report last year: Ã¢â‚¬Å“We need to make sure that Ã¢â‚¬Â¦[e]ventually, we can get to a system where an electric company will be able [sic] to hold back some of the power so that maybe your air conditioner wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t operate at its peak, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll still be able to cool your house, but thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be a savings to the consumer.Ã¢â‚¬Â (emphasis added)
Clearly, DoE funding to encourage the adoption of Ã¢â‚¬Å“smart metersÃ¢â‚¬Â would very likely lead to much increased sales by Landis+Gyr Ã¢â‚¬â€ and a potential windfall for Zoi. But surely Zoi doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t participate in the relevant Ã¢â‚¬Å“energy efficiencyÃ¢â‚¬Â policy?
In fact, as a condition of her employment with the Obama administration, while Ms. Zoi maintained significant security holdings in Serious Materials and Landis+Gyr, she promised to Ã¢â‚¬Å“not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter that has a direct and predictable effect on the[ir] financial interestÃ¢â‚¬Â without obtaining a waiver first.
But then, if she doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t participate in decisions that could have a Ã¢â‚¬Å“direct and predictable effectÃ¢â‚¬Â on her Landis+Gyr holdings and she doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t participate in decisions that could have a Ã¢â‚¬Å“direct and predictable effectÃ¢â‚¬Â on her holdings in Serious Materials, it seems worth asking in which decisions she can participate.
Given her position and the breadth of the decisions and duties from which she would have to recuse herself if someone with the rather glaring conflicts as Ms. Zoi has follows through on her promises to avoid participating in decisions that would impact companies in which she oddly has retained a substantial financial interest Ã¢â‚¬â€ what decisions and policies is she participating in? Has she obtained waivers? If so, on what; if not, why not? Re-read her title. Re-review her investments. What, precisely, is she doing on our dime and how come she is permitted to carry such obvious conflicts of interest that either preclude her from working on nearly any matter of substance under her purview, or trigger automatically serious ethical and other considerations? And, what happened to that whole ethical, transparency thing?
Christopher Horner is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.