Energy Policy

How Will a Perry Energy Department Impact America?

4 min read

Former Texas governor Rick Perry is the nation’s energy secretary. This follows his nomination by President Trump and his confirmation by the Senate on March 2, 2017.

Perry was not a natural candidate for the job. During a 2011 Republican primary debate, Perry vowed to abolish the Department he now oversees. Perry, who ran for president in the past two elections, said he regrets his past statements knocking the Department of Energy (DOE).  At the opening of his confirmation hearing, Perry acknowledged the “vital functions” of the department. These functions include maintaining and protecting America’s nuclear stockpile, discouraging nuclear proliferation by foreign governments, managing the nation’s 17 scientific laboratories and overseeing a portfolio of grants, loans and loan guarantees that support research and development on every type of energy. 

Potential shifts in energy policy under Perry

While the White House will set the nation’s energy and environmental policy, Secretary Perry will play a large role in helping implement the Administration’s vision. Predictions about how Perry will guide energy policy are split along partisan lines. 

Pro-energy organizations welcome what they hope will be a shift away from renewables and towards energy that can be dispatched around the clock. The emphasis being on ending what they viewed as a “war on coal” and removing what they see as artificial barriers to the production of domestic energy resources – mostly oil, natural gas and coal. 

Environmental groups and others worry that Perry, with support from the Trump White House, will roll back efforts to expand renewables. They also worry this will give a powerful platform to officials who question the scientific consensus on climate change.

During his confirmation hearing, Perry reversed his earlier skeptical stance on climate change, but balked when pressed to declare it a “crisis.” He did acknowledge that the climate is changing and “some of it” is caused by “manmade activity.” With this remark, he goes further than President Trump has to acknowledge the harmful environmental changes caused mainly by the release of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.

Perry has said he’ll work to develop American energy in all forms — from oil, gas and nuclear power to renewable sources such as wind and solar power. He has promised to rely on federal scientists, including those who work on climate change.

As governor of Texas for 14 years, Perry managed one of the largest global economies based on energy, balancing both fossil fuels and the expansion of renewables. Perry proudly touts the fact that during his tenure, Texas became the nation’s leading wind energy state, with nearly 18,000 megawatts of installed capacity by the end of 2015. 

Although Perry lacks the scientific background of some of his predecessors at the DOE, his resume is loaded with political experience. Republicans say his management credentials are more important for running the $30 billion, 14,400-person department.

What industry experts say about Perry’s energy focus

During his tenure as Texas governor—the longest on record—the state was supportive of a variety of energy resources.

Some renewable energy groups have praised Perry’s efforts as governor. In a Utility Drive article, Charlie Hemmeline, Texas Solar Power Association Executive Director, is quoted saying that implementation of a competitive market and technology-neutral infrastructure investments under Perry paved the way in Texas for “a major expansion of new generation.”

Hemmeline also credits Perry with understanding that solar growth can mean economic investment, jobs, cost-competitive power and energy portfolio diversification. The Perry record, he says, “signals a bright future for solar nationwide.”

Conversely, Tom Smith, executive director of the Texas Office of Public Citizen, an anti-nuclear consumer watchdog group, worries about the impact of Perry’s DOE tenure. He points to Perry’s support in Texas of a plan to build 11 new coal plants, including fast-tracking the permitting process.

“The data clearly indicated so much new coal capacity would overwhelm the market with one kind of energy as we were building a more balanced portfolio,” Smith said.

On the other hand, Smith says Perry could play a critical role in influencing President Trump and reproducing the Texas experience nationally. In particular, the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) in Texas is held up as model for the kind of national infrastructure investment Trump has proposed.

Former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chair Joe Hoecker agrees. “He [Perry] would be in a splendid position to make an integrated, high voltage grid a centerpiece of the new administration’s focus on infrastructure, which could be huge for the economy.”

Perry on energy policy

Since taking office, Perry has been on a whirlwind tour of the nation’s important energy sites. He has traveled to several national labs, participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Texas for the opening of the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture project and toured the Yucca Mountain repository site in Nevada. The DOE also approved a new export permit for a major liquefied natural gas (LNG) project. 

During one of his national lab visits, Perry touted the benefits of nuclear power. “If you really care about this environment that we live in — and I think the vast majority of the people in the country and the world do — then you need to be a supporter of this amazingly clean, resilient, safe, reliable source of energy,” Perry said. 

Perry has also travelled to the G-7 Energy Ministerial to promote economic growth and energy security and visited Japan — where he toured the Fukushima nuclear site — and China this month.

While the Trump Administration’s budget proposal includes major cuts to most Federal programs, Perry noted that the DOE budget “delivers on the promise to reprioritize spending in order to carry out DOE’s core functions efficiently and effectively while also being fiscally responsible and respectful to the American taxpayer. It reflects the importance of strengthening our nuclear capabilities, and places an emphasis on early stage energy technology research and development. As we refocus resources, we will continue to utilize our national laboratories for cutting edge science in order to improve both our energy and national security.”


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