Rick Perry Leaves ‘Mixed Legacy’ of Oil, Gas, Wind in Texas

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

By Rebecca Kern

Dec. 13 — Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) pushed for investments that created the wind boom in Texas, but his support for fossil fuels leaves Texas energy observers questioning whether he would back renewables as Energy secretary.

When Perry was governor in 2000 to 2015, Texas, the nation’s No. 1 oil and natural gas producer, also grew as No. 1 in wind, and produces twice as much wind power as Iowa, the next biggest state. At the same time, Perry promoted oil and gas development and coal-fired power and rejected climate science.

“The Texas model under Gov. Perry’s leadership enabled the growth of low-cost wind energy that made the grid more diverse and reliable while saving consumers money,” Tom Kiernan, chief executive officer of the American Wind Energy Association, which represents the wind industry, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 13.

Texas has gained 25,000 jobs in the wind industry, and $32.7 billion in investment, Kiernan said.

‘Confounding’ Pick for DOE

Perry’s expected nomination as energy secretary is a “confounding one for environmentalists and the renewable energy industry,” Michael Webber, deputy director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 13.

“On one hand, he is an open and public advocate for coal, oil and gas and denies climate science. On the other hand, he openly advocated for socialized infrastructure investments that enabled continued expansion of the wind boom in Texas and helped decarbonize the state. The question remains which version of Governor Perry will lead the DOE,” he said.

It might be tempting to paint Perry’s legacy with developing Texas renewables with a broad brush, but it’s a mixed legacy, Tracy Hester, lecturer at the University of Houston Law Center who teaches environmental law, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 13.

“He was viewed as a stalwart for the development of wind capacity within Texas,” Hester said. He supported the creation of the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, which are designated geographical areas wind generation facilities and transmission lines are built in the state.

However, that development was in the context of supporting a broad portfolio of all types of energy, including fossil fuel, Hester said.

“While he was working on ensuring that the [Competitive Renewable Energy Zones] line corridor was constructed he was also actively promoting the construction of multiple coal-fired powered plants,” Hester said.

History on Wind Development

Perry enabled more wind energy production in the state by signing legislation in 2005 that raised the state Renewable Portfolio Standard to 15,000 megawatts by 2025 and created new transmission projects to bring wind from Western Texas to more populated areas.

Texas already has met these requirements for renewable energy, Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter in Texas, told Bloomberg BNA.

However, Reed still calls Perry’s leadership on wind development in Texas “extremely limited.”

Jim Marston, vice president of clean energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, said Perry has a good understanding of wind energy. President-elect Donald Trump has disparaged wind energy.

Perry “knows that it works. He knows it’s inexpensive. And he knows some of the things that the President-elect has said about wind are untrue,” he said. “I hope he tries to educate the president-elect about the facts about wind.”

Close Ties to Oil, Gas

Perry has close ties to the oil and gas industries. He sits on the board of directors of Energy Transfer Partners LP, the company that is building the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Additionally, his executive order expediting permitting process to benefit the construction of nearly a dozen new coal plants in Texas proposed by now-defunct TXU Energy Retail Co. LLC, which donated to Perry’s governor campaign, has drawn criticism. In fact the Environmental Defense Fund sued, and as a result only two coal plants were built, Marston said.

“We have a president who wants to drain the swamp and he appoints someone who’s No. 1 energy related effort was helping a special donor,” Marston said.

Salo Zelermyer, partner at Bracewell Policy Resolution Group in Washington, D.C., said he doesn’t think fossil fuels and renewables are mutually exclusive.

“I don’t think the the fact that he comes from a state that’s a historic leader in oil and gas production, necessarily precludes or is mutually exclusive with being someone who is very open to the development of clean energy,” Zelermyer told Bloomberg BNA.

No Scientific Background

The fact that Perry has no science background sets him apart from the two energy secretaries under the Obama administration, Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist, and Steven Chu, also a physicist.

Perry also has scoffed at climate science.

In an author’s note to his 2010 book “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington,” Perry wrote that one of the “excesses of Washington” was “the perils of environmental policy based on the hysteria of global warming.” Also, in a 2011 Republican presidential debate, he said “the science is not settled” on whether human activity caused current climate change, even though climate scientists overwhelmingly say it does.

“Here’s a guy who’s not curious about scientific and technical questions, if there’s any place in the Cabinet where you need somebody who understands technical issues” it’s the Energy Department, Marston said.

—With assistance from Nushin Huq in Houston.

To contact the reporters on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington at rKern@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Try Environment & Energy Report