It’s true — Rick Perry denies global warming. The newly-announced 2016 presidential candidate and former Texas governor has sampled all the climate change denial cliches. He’s “not a scientist;” the science is “doctored;” there’s actually “a cooling trend.”
It’s also true that Perry is a huge proponent of fossil fuel development. During his presidential announcement Thursday, he said he’d approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on “day one” if elected. He’s called the Environmental Protection Agency a “cemetery for jobs.” Near Texas’ Refinery Row, where oil and chemical companies operated with limited regulation under Perry’s watch, poor communities breathe air with high levels of cancer-causing pollutants.
Despite all these things, Rick Perry is not the worst GOP candidate on the environment. In fact, he’s one of the only GOP candidates with at least a small record of implementing policies that have actively benefited the environment. Candidates Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul all have zero percent scores from the League of Conservation Voters in 2014, meaning they literally voted against every key policy that would have had a positive impact on the environment.
Perry at least has had a few environmental successes, specifically related to renewable power and water. In 2013, facing a historic drought, Perry signed legislation that put $2 billion toward new water infrastructure, water conservation, and helping poor communities with irrigation techniques. In 2005, Perry signed legislation that required Texas to substantially increase its renewable energy capacity to 5,880 megawatts by 2015. And since then, wind has exploded — another nonbinding target of 10,000 megawatts by 2025 has already been surpassed. When Perry took office, Texas had only 116 megawatts of renewable capacity. Now, it has the most wind energy production in the country.
This can’t all be attributed to Perry. As the Texas Tribune notes, “generous federal incentives” for wind energy — incentives that have now expired — certainly played a large role. And environmentalists have called him “bipolar” on the issue, saying he only pushed forward on wind “when he saw he could get a political benefit.”
They real key to all this, though, is that Perry’s environmentally beneficial policies were rarely ever implemented for that express purpose. In other words, he doesn’t make environmental decisions for the environment’s sake. Most of the time, those benefits were just side effects of policies he believed to be economically helpful, or not harmful to the oil industry. So it seems safe to say that Perry, as president, would probably not take up policies strictly geared toward fighting human-caused climate change or reducing smog — unless he recognizes that both of those things have been shown to have real economic benefits.
That’s not really an environmentalist’s dream. But compared to most of the other GOP candidates, it’s not the worst they could do.