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Boosters, foes of Perry for energy secretary agree: Look at his record in Texas

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Boosters, foes of Perry for energy secretary agree: Look at his record in Texas

Texas' longest-serving governor may soon be heading to Washington, bringing to the U.S. Department of Energy a track record of supporting the massive growth in the domestic oil and gas industry and a willingness to take on the environmental lobby.

Rick Perry, who succeeded George W. Bush in 2001 and was elected three times in his own right, was formally announced on Dec. 14 as President-elect Donald Trump's pick to serve as secretary of energy in the next administration. As secretary of energy if confirmed, he would lead a federal agency with a portfolio that includes regulation of nuclear waste and promotion of new energy technologies. It is also a department he said he wanted to abolish during his aborted 2012 campaign for president.

But it was Texas' track record on energy while Perry was governor that stands out the most, both to supporters and detractors.

Salo Zelermyer, senior counsel at Bracewell LLP's Washington, D.C., office and a former lawyer in the U.S. Department of Energy, said Perry has the background to be an effective energy secretary.

"As governor of the state of Texas for 15 years, Rick Perry led a state that has, for decades, been critical to our domestic energy policy. During his time in office, Perry embodied the type of 'all of the above' approach to U.S. energy production that many have advocated on both sides of the aisle," he said. "Rick Perry's Texas was not only a world leader in oil and gas production; it was also a global leader in wind power and renewable energy investment."

SNL Image

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry leaves Trump Tower
in New York on Dec. 12.

Source: Associated Press

Perry's involvement in issues related to the coal industry are limited, but the governor did support the construction of new coal-fired generation in Texas as other states chose to move away from the fuel. In 2005, Perry issued an executive order that aimed to cut red tape and expedite permitting of new coal power plants.

He was also an advocate for "clean coal" power plants and set up a council to promote the use and development of technologies that would encourage continued improvements in air emissions from Texas' power producers. Perry signed legislation in 2009 that included tax incentives for these power plants, as well, according to a report in the Texas Tribune.

In a 2014 letter to President Barack Obama, Perry held up Texas as an example of how an "all of the above" energy strategy can work, noting large reductions in pollutants such as nitrogen oxide that occurred while the state's population grew by 6 million people between 2000 and 2014. Perry also oversaw the deregulation of Texas' electricity sector in the early years of his governorship and a boom in wind development throughout his tenure.

Texas is among a few states that allow or are pursuing the storage of spent nuclear reactor fuel within its borders, something Perry has been involved with. In a March 2014 letter, Perry detailed his request to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to study the challenges posed by spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive waste stored on site at six Texas nuclear reactors.

Thanks largely to the advent of horizontal drilling and the use of hydraulic fracturing in unconventional plays like Barnett Shale, Eagle Ford Shale and several formations in the Permian Basin, oil and gas production in Texas skyrocketed. Oil production in the state went from an average of just over 1 million barrels per day in 2001 to slightly less than 2.5 MMbbl/d in 2014, his last full year in office. Natural gas production also spiked, going from 5.67 Tcf in 2001 to 8.17 Tcf in 2014.

The former governor, who mocked proponents of the idea of man-made climate change as "the secular carbon cult" in 2011, also serves on the board of directors of Energy Transfer Partners LP, the company building the hot-button Dakota Access pipeline.

Environmental groups were quick to seize on Perry's background, too.

"President-elect Trump has nominated an oil company CEO who has bankrolled climate-denying science to be secretary of state. He has nominated a climate-denying state attorney general who has used his power to do the bidding of the oil and gas industry to head the Environmental Protection Agency. The nomination of Texas Gov. Rick Perry — yet another out-of-touch climate denier — to head the Department of Energy (DOE), an agency he vowed to eliminate, completes the dangerous trio of climate denial and obstruction. This may be the most stunning expression of how money in politics work. The richest corporations win and everybody else loses," EarthJustice said in a statement.

The Sierra Club also denounced Perry's nomination, calling it "an insult to our functioning democracy."

"Rick Perry is being tapped to run an agency he would eliminate if he could only remember its name. Putting Perry in charge of the Department of Energy is the perfect way to ensure the agency fails at everything it is charged to do, so Trump might as well just lock the doors for four years," Executive Director Michael Brune said. "[Perry's] ideological obsession with promoting dirty fossil fuels and ignoring the climate crisis means he is just as unfit for this position as the other climate deniers Trump is promoting for key posts."