I hope you’re aware this is Energy Week. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry certainly is. You have never seen a guy so happy.
After all, he doesn’t get out all that much these days. Former governor of Texas, presidential candidate, “Dancing With the Stars” contestant – all really high-profile occupations. Now, he’s stuck in a Cabinet department so obscure Perry couldn’t think of its name during the famous “oops” presidential debate.
The Trump administration is really into Weeks. Perhaps you remember Infrastructure Week, which coincided with the appearance of former FBI Director James Comey before a Senate committee.
Never miss a local story.
Now, while the president is floundering in the health care crisis, there’s Energy Week, and what passes in this administration for a feel-good theme – “energy dominance.”
“I don’t want to be energy-free; we want to be energy-dominant in terms of the world,” said the president at a roundtable with Perry and other interested parties Wednesday. Actually, the president spent half his time talking about the health care bill. But he did remember to push the new slogan, promising to usher in “a golden age of American energy dominance.”
Remember the good old days when all we wanted was energy independence? It’s a new era and you don’t want to be just skipping along the independence trail when you could be right up there on the mountaintop with your foot on the rest of the world’s throat. Leaders, shmeaders. We’re going to be dominators.
“An energy-dominant America means self-reliant,” said Perry, trying to bring us all together at a press briefing.
There were some negative thinkers who scoffed when Perry was appointed head of the Department of Energy, where most of the actual work involves the safe handling of nuclear materials. Barack Obama’s first secretary won a Nobel Prize for his work on trapping atoms with laser light. The second was a nuclear physicist. Rick Perry has a bachelor’s degree in animal science, but we are not going to point that out because it’s simply meanspirited.
In an administration that really, really hates talking with the press, Perry was happy as a jaybird taking questions – they practically had to drag him away from the mike. He was particularly excited when he got an opening to talk about Texas, and brag about how many jobs were created and how many people were added to the population when he was governor.
This is all true, and it is not entirely because Perry was in office for such a long time that you might imagine he was counting from the beginning of statehood.
His point was that over those many eons – OK, really 14 years – and the addition of “a lot of pickup trucks on highways,” Texas still saw a dramatic reduction in air pollution. And he was right – thank you, federal regulations on car emissions! In fact, a great deal of the good news about the environment in Texas is due to federal rules that Texas was not originally very happy about.
“Rick Perry is like the rooster who thinks his crowing caused the sun to come up,” said Jim Marston of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Texas office.
Another very important reason Texas has been able to balance growth with cleaner air is wind power. In 1999, Gov. George W. Bush signed a regulation aimed at jump-starting the wind power industry. Under Perry, his successor, clean energy use soared and so did jobs.
“The real story in Texas is employment in the renewable energy sector,” said Adrian Shelley of Public Citizen in Texas. “There are 23,000 jobs in wind, and fewer than 8,000 coal jobs.”
The same is true on a national basis. Coal jobs down, wind and solar power jobs way up. It’s a big success that the Trump administration hates to acknowledge. Pressed on the jobs point during his press briefing, Perry evaded: “They go up and down, back and forth.”
The Trump administration is cheerleading for coal and nuclear power. “One of the things we want to do at DOE is make nuclear energy cool again,” Perry said. It was an interesting image – nuclear energy at the Grammy Awards, hanging out with LeBron James, getting a rose on “The Bachelorette.”
But wind and solar energy, they are – not popular. The presidential budget calls for a nearly 70 percent cut in spending for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Why do you think this administration is so hostile to a growing industry that’s clearly the global future? Lobbying? Political donations? A general aversion to anything Obama liked?
Perry has also hinted that the administration might try to override state laws requiring utilities to get a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources.
“That’s a conversation that will occur over the course of the next few years,” he said at a gathering in April. He mentioned the need “to protect the security interests of America.”
So the man who oversaw a great boom in wind power jobs as governor is now strategizing about ways to keep anybody else from following the same happy path.
Because, you know … dominance.