Rick Perry slams Obama climate policy, but brags about its results

Energy secretary says Paris needs to be “renegotiated” since we’re cutting emissions faster than Germany. But are we?

Energy Secretary Rick Perry at an Earth Day event in Dallas, April 21, 2017. CREDIT: AP/LM Otero
Energy Secretary Rick Perry at an Earth Day event in Dallas, April 21, 2017. CREDIT: AP/LM Otero

NEW YORK, NEW YORK — Energy Secretary Rick Perry hates Obama’s climate policies. Except when he’s pointing to how successful those policies have been in reducing carbon pollution.

Perry’s self-contradictory remarks came on Tuesday at the annual Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in New York. In his speech, he slammed Obama’s supposed “war on coal” — what he described as “politically driven policies driven primarily by hostility toward coal.”

But then he was asked about what he would tell President Donald Trump when key cabinet members and top advisers meet, reportedly scheduled for Thursday, to decide whether to exit or remain in the landmark Paris climate agreement.

In response, Perry touted the progress America made in cutting carbon pollution during the Obama years, which was accomplished in large part by replacing coal with natural gas, renewables, and efficiency.

Perry explained he had just come back from a meeting in Italy with energy ministers from the G7 countries — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, and U.S., along with the European Union. He then referenced a presentation by International Energy Agency (IEA) chief Fatih Birol that, Perry says, showed “the two countries that are making the real impact on emissions are the United States and China.”


Then Perry used that progress to shame our European allies and say we need to “renegotiate” the Paris deal. Except Perry is not just being hypocritical; he is simply confused about what the IEA was saying. You can see a video of Perry explaining his position on Paris here.

The IEA wasn’t arguing that the world’s two biggest carbon polluters, China and the U.S., are the leaders in cutting emissions since 1990 (which is the baseline year for all Paris pledges). The IEA was pointing out that recently, American and Chinese efforts to cut coal use have had the biggest impact on reversing global CO2 trends.

As the chart above makes clear, while the U.S. has made great strides in reducing GHG emissions recently, we are still above 1990 levels.

Nonetheless, Perry said, “I looked over to my friends from Germany and France, and I’m going, ‘What are you all doing?’” Perry’s remark drew “audible murmurs from the audience in New York,” as one media outlet put it.

It’s clear why the audience of global energy experts and business people gasped when you look at the chart of Germany’s GHG emissions since 1990.

Apparently unbeknownst to the energy secretary, the Germans — and the E.U. in general — have been leaders in cutting carbon pollution in the past and in making GHG commitments going forward.


Nevertheless, Perry persisted. “You have Germany, for instance, who made the decision… to get out of the nuclear business, to double down — to hear them tell it — on renewables,” he added. “But the fact is their emissions have gone up; they’re using more coal, and coal without clean technologies.”

It’s true German emissions have (temporarily) plateaued in the past eight years, while America’s have dropped. But the U.S. Energy Secretary criticizing Germany’s climate leadership is bizarre and unfounded. And it is the height of chutzpah for a member of the Trump administration to boast about how the U.S. cut emissions by reducing coal use when they opposed and criticized such policies and intend to reverse them.

“My point is,” Perry continued, “don’t sign an agreement and then expect us to stay in an agreement if you’re not going to really participate and be a part of it.”

Yes, the energy secretary for a president who campaigned on killing the Paris agreement — and who has started undoing all U.S. climate policies needed to meet our pledge — actually slammed countries who are committed to the agreement and doing a lot more.

“I’m not going to say to the president of the United States, ‘let’s just walk away from the Paris accord,’” Perry added. “But, what I’m going to say is that I think we probably should renegotiate it.”

Total GHG emissions of EU-28. Their 2020 target has nearly been met “eight years ahead of time.” CREDIT: Eurostat data via
Total GHG emissions of EU-28. Their 2020 target has nearly been met “eight years ahead of time.” CREDIT: Eurostat data via

So we “should renegotiate” an agreement unanimously accepted by nearly 200 nations after weeks and months of hard bargaining. And all because Perry mistakenly thinks the U.S., which actually has the weakest conceivable GHG target, has been doing a better job cutting emissions (by cutting coal use, which Perry actually opposes) than the E.U., which in fact has been doing a better job and has a much stronger target.

Such is the state of policy-making in the Trump era.