ACEEE’s Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings – A Recap

With energy and environmental problems growing more daunting, the need for intelligent solutions is becoming more and more significant. Every two years, a diverse gang of engineers, architects, technicians and true believers gather at the Asilomar Conference Center for the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy’ Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings.  I recently returned from the 14th Summer Study, held on Aug. 17-22.

My fondest memories of the Summer Study are from the Reagan years when the dwindling energy efficiency crowd huddled together for mutual therapy, shared exchanges on survivor strategies, and rekindled their commitments to stay the course.  I’ve missed the recent Summer Studies, but returned this year to indulge my own obsession and measure the changes aroused by rising energy prices and publicity about Climate Change.

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NASA Security Badge Holder May Pose a Safety Hazard

A secure identification badge holder that was issued to NASA employees could pose a threat to sensitive NASA operations or personnel, the agency warned.

The badge holders were issued to comply with President Bush’s Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12, which requires all government personnel to possess a secure, tamper-proof form of identification.

But the NASA badge holders, which are “electromagnetically opaque” to guard against unauthorized scanning of the identity badges, have created new safety problems of their own.

“The current issue with the badge holder is the possibility of the badge holder becoming a Foreign Object Damage (FOD) hazard to flight hardware, or a projectile hazard under certain circumstances,” wrote Randy J. Aden, the senior security official at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in an email message to all JPL personnel on August 22.

A NASA Kennedy Space Center Safety Notice on August 15 provided additional background.

“The badge holder may separate with little effort, allowing the clips, the front half of the holder and badge ID to separate creating a significant FOD hazard in controlled areas,” the Safety Notice explained (pdf).

Consequently, “personnel should ensure the badge holder is not worn, or is properly secured, in the vicinity of sensitive flight hardware, such as electronics, where FOD may be an issue,” Mr. Aden advised.

Also, “When removing your badge, do not point [the] end with metal clips towards your face or another person” in order to minimize the projectile threat, the NASA Safety Notice suggested.

NASA’s implementation of Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12 is controversial for other reasons as well, especially at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. While the Directive requires agencies to verify their employees’ identities, JPL has instituted a far-reaching background investigation process that goes far beyond that.

At JPL, the HSPD-12 “identification” procedure includes a potentially open-ended investigation into employees’ finances, intimate relations, and personal conduct. It is roughly comparable to a security clearance background investigation, although few scientists are involved in classified research at JPL, which is mainly devoted to planetary exploration.

Last year, 28 senior scientists at JPL filed a lawsuit to challenge the Lab’s implementation of HSPD-12, which they described as overly intrusive and unconstitutional. Descriptive information on the case, which remains pending, is available from the plaintiffs here.

The official JPL web site states that “The successful implementation of HSPD-12 will increase the security of Federal facilities and Federal IT systems. This will provide better protection for the employees, the information systems and the employee’s work products.”

Neither the JPL public web site nor other NASA web sites mention the new badge holder safety issue.

Residential Energy Retrofits: An Untapped Resource Right At Home

As convention time rolls around and the presidential election heats up, candidates will be more and more pressed for the specifics of their climate change policies. One of the most important ways of addressing climate change that should be a part of any approach is reducing energy use in residential homes. They account for over 20 percent of CO2 emissions and total energy use in the US, and a program for large-scale improvement would offer a solution that actually saves money compared to the required investment.

Current and proposed climate change policies focus primarily on setting minimum standards for new homes through building codes. The scope of energy use under consideration by cap-and-trade or carbon taxation schemes complicates inclusion of residential buildings: the emissions from one residence cannot serve as a commodity in the same market as electricity generating facilities. FAS has analyzed the possibilities for reconciling this difference, and has determined that retrofitting operations supported by utilities and included in emissions reduction mechanisms are a critical solution to the problems of energy consumption, cost, and emissions.

A system of residential energy efficiency improvements would enable cost-effective improvements financed by homeowners and utilities. Utilities would provide energy auditing services to establish the level of retrofit measures appropriate for homeowner and utility investment. Utilities are ideally situated to play a large role in retrofitting by providing low-cost energy auditing tools, up-to-date energy cost  summaries, performance data on retrofit options, and bulk purchase rates for improvements. In addition, utilities have a vested interest in retrofitting residences for energy efficiency because these improvements help utilities cope with rising demand and diminish the need for new plant construction. In order to improve residential energy efficiency and implement this policy, policymakers should consider the following recommendations as part of an overall approach to climate change mitigation:

  • Climate change policy must include provisions to account for the environmental costs of inefficiency in existing residential buildings.
  • National policymakers should help state public utility commissions decouple sales volume from profits, in turn providing uniform national promotion of energy efficiency.
  • National policymakers should facilitate the implementation of a system of cooperative investment by homeowners and utilities in household retrofits to improve residential energy efficiency.

Read the full analysis here.

Recently Published Hearings on National Security

Numerous congressional records on national security policy have been published in the last couple of weeks, including those listed below (mostly pdf). Some of them may have continuing reference value.

“Department of Justice to Guantanamo Bay: Administration Lawyers and Administration Interrogation Rules (Part I),” House Judiciary Committee, May 6, 2008.

“Diplomatic Assurances and Rendition to Torture: The Perspective of the State Department’s Legal Adviser,” House Foreign Affairs Committee, June 10, 2008.

“Improving Detainee Policy: Handling Terrorism Detainees Within the American Justice System,” Senate Judiciary Committee, June 4, 2008.

“The National Security Letters Reform Act of 2007,” House Judiciary Committee, April 15, 2008.

“Federal Bureau of Investigation (Part II),” House Judiciary Committee, April 23, 2008.

“Torture and the Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment of Detainees: the Effectiveness and Consequences of ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation,” House Judiciary Committee, November 8, 2007.

“Warrantless Surveillance and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: The Role of Checks and Balances in Protecting Americans’ Privacy Rights,” House Judiciary Committee, September 5, 2007.

“FISA for the Future: Balancing Security and Liberty,” House Intelligence Committee, September 18, 2007.

“Challenges for the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Posed by the Global Terrorist Threat,” House Armed Services Committee, February 14, 2007.

“Nomination of Dr. Donald M. Kerr to be Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence,” Senate Intelligence Committee, August 1, 2007.


Welcome to the FAS Building Technologies Blog. We intend for this blog to serve as a dynamic link to the program’s research, as well as a source for dialog and information on program research topics. The blog will investigate a number of policy issues regarding building technologies, energy, and climate change, including the need for improved codes and standards. It will also look into new building technologies that can minimize energy use while maintaining or improving safety and comfort, high performance emergency and manufactured housing, and other inventive solutions for improving our nation’s building stock and reducing the impact of buildings on our environment.

For more information on the FAS Building Technologies Program, please visit

Anxious Governments React to Google Earth

The easy availability of high-resolution imagery of much of the Earth’s surface through Google Earth has presented a significant challenge to longstanding secrecy and national security policies, and has produced several distinct types of reactions from concerned governments, according to a recent report (pdf) from the DNI Open Source Center (OSC).

“As the initial shock wore off, five main responses to the ‘Google threat’ emerged from nations around the world: negotiations with Google, banning Google products, developing a similar product, taking evasive measures, and nonchalance,” the OSC report said.

The report documents these responses with citations to published news sources. It also notes several incidents in which terrorists or irregular military forces reportedly used Google Earth to plan or conduct attacks.

The OSC report has not been approved for public release, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News. See “The Google Controversy — Two Years Later,” Open Source Center, 30 July 2008.

Further background on the impact of commercial satellite imagery may be found in “Can You Spot the Chinese Nuclear Sub?” by Sharon Weinberger, Discover, August 2008.

Due to government restrictions, lawsuits or other arrangements with Google, quite a few locations have been excluded from detailed coverage in Google Earth. Many of these were identified in “Blurred Out: 51 Things You Aren’t Allowed to See on Google Maps,” IT Security, July 15, 2008.

Both articles were cited by the OSC in its new report.

China Takes Steps Against Imagery Reconnaissance

Chinese military authorities are paying increased attention to foreign satellite reconnaissance of Chinese forces and operations, and are pursuing countermeasures such as camouflage and deception to conceal sensitive material and activities, according to a newly-disclosed analysis (pdf) performed in 2007 by the DNI Open Source Center.

“A variety of Chinese open source reporting suggests that China is developing an increasingly sophisticated understanding of US imagery collection capabilities and is steadily taking steps to evade both Western intelligence and commercial satellite and aerial reconnaissance,” the OSC report stated.

“PRC domestic and military media clearly indicate that China is well aware of US intelligence’s imagery satellite reconnaissance activities, including some key specifications. Much of the knowledge could come from observation of US military operations or from authorized and unauthorized disclosure in US media,” the report said.

Like most other OSC analytical products, the report has not been approved for public release. But a copy was obtained by Secrecy News. See “China: PLA Training Emphasizes Countermeasures Against Imagery Reconnaissance,” Open Source Center, July 31, 2007.

Pakistani Research on Laser Isotope Separation

Scientific research in Pakistan on laser isotope separation is the subject of a new open source bibliography (pdf) compiled by independent researcher Mark Gorwitz.

“It should be noted that they are using this technology to separate Lithium-6 which can be used in advanced nuclear weapons designs,” Mr. Gorwitz said. “They have also done research on uranium spectroscopy, which could be an indication they are looking at uranium enrichment by the laser method.”

See “Pakistani Laser Isotope Separation Related Research” by Mark Gorwitz, August 2008.

FAS Obtains Report on US Arms Exports

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the FAS, the Defense Department has released its contribution to the Fiscal Year 2007 edition of the Annual Military Assistance Report required by Section 655 of the Foreign Assistance Act.

The “Section 655” report, as it is known, contains information on five major security assistance programs: Direct Commercial Sales (DCS), International Military Education and Training (IMET), Excess Defense Articles Grant Authorizations and Deliveries (EDA), Drawdown Assistance Authorizations, and Foreign Military Sales (FMS). The section on FMS (i.e. government-to-government arms sales) is particularly valuable as it provides information on the types of items exported, not just the aggregate dollar value of the exported weapons.

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Senators Say Secrecy Impedes Oversight of Torture Policy

Updated below

By resisting congressional requests for documents, the Bush Administration has effectively diminished Congress’s oversight power, as the review of government policy is often replaced by lengthy contests over access to records.

In the final six months of the current Administration, for example, the Senate Judiciary Committee still finds itself unable to gain access to influential records of the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) relating to interrogation, detention and torture.

“After more than five years of requests, we have only recently received access to redacted versions of OLC legal opinions related to the CIA’s interrogation program,” wrote Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) on August 19.

“The failure to provide other documents that we have sought repeatedly, however, leaves us without basic facts that are essential to this Committee’s ability to conduct its oversight responsibilities.”

“I have been stonewalled even in my repeated request for something as simple as an index of OLC opinions,” wrote Sen. Leahy.

The Administration has not asserted executive privilege in this area, and national security classification is not a barrier to the cleared Committee staff. The requested documents have simply not been provided.

In a letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding, Senators Leahy and Specter asked Mr. Fielding to turn over ten specified legal memoranda and other OLC documents on detention and interrogation policies.

The Senators set a deadline of Friday, August 29 at 10 AM for delivery of the requested documents. They did not indicate how they might respond if the documents are not received.

Update and clarification: The Department of Justice has provided copies of all OLC opinions dealing with CIA interrogation policy to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The dispute between the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department reflects in part a disagreement over jurisdictional boundaries between the two Committees.