Calling himself a “foot soldier in the army” of the conservative moment, Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Friday hailed President Trump’s war on government rules. This is despite the Department of Energy waging a months-long campaign in 2017 to allow the government, not free markets, decide what types of fuel sources should be used to generate electricity.
Perry, speaking at the annual CPAC convention in National Harbor, Maryland, told the audience that regulatory restraint is “how you change this country forever.”
His fellow cabinet member on the stage, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, remarked how the growing use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has made a big difference in the nation’s ability to meet its energy needs and become an energy exporter.
Despite its anti-regulation rhetoric, the Trump administration spent a large part of its first year in power trying to intervene in the nation’s wholesale power markets. Last September, Perry submitted a proposed rule to federal energy regulators that would prop up coal and nuclear plants at the expense of natural gas and renewable energy generation. Aside from the companies that would benefit from the bailout, Perry’s idea was widely panned by the energy industry and was ultimately rejected by a Republican-led Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
On the growth of fracking over the past 15 years, Zinke failed to mention that taxpayer-funded federal research programs helped unlock fracking technology in the late 1990s. The Interior secretary also credited Trump with turning the United States into a net exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), even though LNG export terminal capacity grew significantly under President Barack Obama. The United States was on track to become a net exporter of LNG no matter who won the presidency in 2016.
The same is true for “clean coal” technologies like carbon capture and sequestration, a technology that Perry said the U.S. government wants to export around the world to countries like India and China. The Department of Energy has spent huge sums of taxpayer money on carbon capture and storage projects, including research at its National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown, West Virginia.
In the private sector, efforts to deploy carbon capture technology on a commercial basis have failed. Southern Company stopped construction of a carbon capture coal plant in Mississippi that was running three years behind schedule and $4 billion over budget. So far, the government’s efforts to make breakthroughs in the technology have fallen short. The George W. Bush and Obama administrations, for example, spent close to a combined $2 billion on a failed carbon capture pilot plant, the FutureGen project in Illinois.
While Perry continues to tout “clean” coal, industry executive Robert Murray, a Trump supporter, says the technology is just a fantasy. “Carbon capture and sequestration does not work. It’s a pseudonym for ‘no coal,’” the CEO of Murray Energy, the country’s largest privately held coal-mining company, told E&E News.
In his remarks on opening public lands to more resource extraction, Zinke insisted “we have a regulatory framework that ensures accountability” from an environmental perspective. The remarks don’t match the reality of the Trump administration’s war on the environment during its first year.
The president’s goal of reducing environmental regulations is already being felt across the country. Enforcement actions have decreased under Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s leadership, according to a recent report from the Environmental Integrity Project. The report shows that enforcement under Pruitt has dropped 44 percent compared to previous administrators’ first years.
Perry also repeated his bizarre claim that Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda has been key to the United States exporting “freedom” around the world. For Perry, giving other countries a new option of who can supply them with climate-destroying fuels like coal, oil, and LNG is somehow increasing their freedom. But it’s really exporting dependence and exporting carbon pollution.
What Trump has accomplished with his energy and environmental policy “is nothing less than world-changing,” Perry told the CPAC audience. Climate leaders would probably agree with Perry’s assessment of Trump’s first year in office, but not in the way the DOE head intended.
As president, Trump has worked to systematically undermine climate regulations and initiatives set up by his predecessors — from pulling the United States out of the Paris climate agreement to ordering the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, which would have placed emissions limits on power plants.
In another remark that was clearly disingenuous, Zinke said American “public lands belong to the people and not special interests.” During his first year as Interior secretary, Zinke has shrunk the size of national monuments and revoked an order requiring the Bureau of Land Management to halt most new coal-leasing activities on federal lands pending the completion of a comprehensive review of the program. Both of these moves were made to benefit Zinke’s supporters in the energy and mineral extraction industries and other well-heeled special interest groups.