Energy Secretary Rick Perry spoke briefly this afternoon to a group of reporters to address topics in energy. The Trump administration has deemed this week “Energy Week” and tasked its appointees, including Perry, to pitch what an “energy-dominant America” looks like to the American people.
Perry painted a vision of America’s energy future in broad strokes this afternoon and said that the US would become a net exporter of energy through natural gas and oil exports. The Energy Information Administration has said that the US could become a net energy exporter by 2026. Perry, who has been dismissive of climate change in the past and has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, also called on the US to “reaffirm our commitment to clean energy,” while at the same time embracing fossil fuels.
“That binary choice between pro-economy and pro-environment that has perpetuated—or, I should say, been perpetuated by the Obama administration—has set up a false argument,” Perry said. “The fact is, we can do good for both—and we will.” Under the Obama administration, solar, wind, and natural gas jobs grew, although coal jobs did fall.
Perry is also a supporter of nuclear energy. “No clean energy portfolio is truly complete without nuclear power,” Perry added this afternoon. Research into advanced nuclear reactors and small modular reactors, he said, would be “a game changer.” The secretary was vague on details about how exactly the Department of Energy (DOE) would boost the ailing nuclear energy industry—this year, major reactor builder Westinghouse suffered a bankruptcy—but he did offer a few ideas. “One of the things we want to do at Department of Energy is make nuclear energy cool again” to young people who might want to study it, Perry said. He later added, “this industry has been strangled all too often by government regulations.”
The Secretary also said there hadn’t been any decision on Yucca Mountain, the planned nuclear waste facility in Nevada that had been put on hold indefinitely due to local opposition. The Trump administration has expressed a willingness to reopen Yucca Mountain planning, setting the stage for a political battle down the line.
Perry caught flack last week for denying that carbon dioxide is a primary factor in climate change, something that reporters pressed him on again today. But over several questions, Perry’s response was far from clear. “The climate is changing, man is having an impact on it,” Perry said, expressing frustration that “we can’t have an intellectual conversation about just what are the actual impacts.”
Another reporter sought to clarify whether Perry was saying that humans are affecting climate change, and now the discussion is about how to handle that change. “Sure,” Perry offered. But later the secretary walked his statement back and said “climate’s changing, always has, man at this point in time is having an effect on it… [but] how much effect is what’s at question here.” The Secretary said he had not spoken to President Trump, who has wrongly called climate change a hoax, about the changing climate.
Perry also defended Trump’s decision to announce his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on the grounds that the US is already a leader in renewable energy. In a response to a question about how the US would proceed in the aftermath of pulling out of the Paris Agreement, Perry said that, although Trump promised he would renegotiate for a better deal, no such negotiations have started taking place yet. “I’m pretty sure the President of the United States wakes up every day thinking about how to get a better deal on a host of different things,” Perry said.
The secretary also called for the US to support carbon capture and storage projects like the Petra Nova coal plant outside of Houston, Texas, which came online this year and is expected to capture 90 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions. Although the Trump administration has put forward budget proposals that would dramatically decrease the amount of funding for energy research, Perry touted the country’s national labs as places where the US could find new uses for coal (specifically, he mentioned mining coal deposits for rare earth minerals).
Secretary Perry also said, “I think that renewables are proving themselves to be a valuable diverse portfolio.”