This summer, federal inspectors made a routine visit to 11 homes in St. Louis to see what taxpayers got for the $5 billion that President Obama spent to help Americans weatherize their homes to save energy.
What they found was quite a surprise. Some of the energy-efficient furnaces installed at taxpayer expense spewed carbon monoxide that could poison occupants. New water heaters lacked required pressure valves, putting them in jeopardy of exploding. And a handful of contractors—unfamiliar with the nuances of specialized weatherization work—had used air blowers in homes with asbestos, potentially dispersing the cancer-causing agent, according to several Energy Department inspector-general reports.
As it closes in on retrofitting 600,000 homes, the government’s weatherization program—a key element of President Obama’s green-energy initiative—has had its share of happy, energy-saving customers. But it has also been riddled with problems. In one review, Energy Department investigators found that 14 percent of weatherization projects surveyed, from Tennessee to West Virginia, failed to meet safety or quality standards. Many customers were poor or elderly, with few resources to pursue wayward contractors.
It turned out that as so much money was being spent so quickly, a lot of state and local governments, as well as contractors, simply weren’t ready for the job at hand.