U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry addressed The Future of Energy Summit in New York City this spring and had a lot of good ideas. Really. He stressed the importance of science and technology as key contributors to economic success and national security. He acknowledged population growth and the changing energy industry as opportunities to maintain global leadership. And he voiced concerns over the security of U.S. energy systems, both physical and cyber – an issue of concern in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
But for all the good, Perry’s message missed a few points that tell us a lot about his goals as Secretary:
1: Ending the era of choosing favorites. Secretary Perry derided his predecessors for playing favorites with wind and solar, and passing unfair regulations against fossil fuels. Ironic, since the United States is the second largest subsidizer of fossil fuels in the world. Oil, natural gas, and coal received 70% of all energy subsidies between 1950 and 2010.
2: Cutting science budgets. At the end of his talk, Secretary Perry took a question on the hypocrisy of his verbal support for science and technology paired with proposed budget cuts to the Department of Energy (the money would go to defense spending instead). His response was that this is the world we live in and that certain science will be prioritized, like supercomputing and cybersecurity.
3: We have all the energy we need to power our future. Secretary Perry paid homage to the political rhetoric of achieving ‘energy independence.’ He also explained President Trump’s strategic goal to be ‘energy dominant’ by relaxing regulations that will enable exploitation of our natural resources in environmentally friendly ways. In reality, the U.S. doesn’t have the technological or manufacturing capability to support our growing energy needs even if we could tap into all available resources.
4: Exporting natural gas. In tune with achieving energy dominance, the approval to ship natural gas overseas was lauded as a big win for the United States. While this is a big deal, made possible by the fracking revolution of the past 10 years, the oil industry is still an unpredictable global market, and cheap oil should be used at home. Instead, the U.S. should be encouraging other countries to adopt and regulate this technology to promote a gas revolution which would further reduce carbon emissions.
5: No mention of climate change. This is the biggest telltale of all. In his 40-minute remarks, Secretary Perry did not mention ‘climate change’ a single time. Yes, his “source agnostic” or “all-of-the-above” approach will ensure diverse energy supplies, but it completely misses the point that unabated use of fossil fuels could raise global temperatures to unlivable levels within our lifetime. Increased temperatures will cause rising sea levels and more extreme weather events triggering mass migrations, food shortages, and international conflicts. To ignore such catastrophic effects in the name of fair markets is both short-sided and irresponsible governance.