Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Perry Keeps Focus on Energy

Gov. Rick Perry is set to unveil his jobs plan Friday, and the campaign says it will be strongly tied to U.S. energy production.

Governor Rick Perry

Photo courtesy of KUT News

Some observers see a little bit of Green under Rick Perry's Red State politics.

Perry had energy at the front of his mind several times at the most recent GOP debate. In New Hampshire this week, talking about how he would get the U.S. economy back on track, he advocated “opening up a lot of the areas of our domestic energy area.”

Answering a question on political gridlock in Washington, he said, “It’s time for energy independence.”

On how to insure uninsured Americans: “That’s why I lay out, without having any congressional impact at all, how to get our energy industry back to work.”

And on dealing with Chinese currency manipulation: “We’re sitting on this absolute treasure trove of energy in this country.”

It’s no surprise that Perry sees domestic oil drilling and energy development as central to America’s economic recovery. After all, says David Spence at the University of Texas’ Energy Management and Innovation Center, it’s worked pretty well in Texas.

“As the price of oil goes up, that increases employment in the industry, and as you know, a lot of oil and gas employment for the world is centered in Texas,” Spence told KUT News.

Spence says it’s an open question how much credit Perry can claim for the booming oil and gas industry. But the governor’s embrace of fossil fuels, his public battles with the Environmental Protection Agency and his vocal skepticism of climate change have made him a bogeyman to many environmental groups. The thing is Perry’s history in Texas may be a little more complicated than his image implies.

“Yeah I suppose it depends on whether you focus on what he says or what he does.” said Spence.  “The rhetoric in the Presidential campaign has been very strong against EPA, against environmentalists and against environmental regulation. But there are some sort of environmentally responsible actions that you can point to, at least a few of them.”

Along with the traditional support of the oil and gas, Perry has overseen record growth in some renewable energy sectors.

“If we’ve had the success over the last 10 years, and people blame the governor’s office for failures, they also should generally credit the governor’s office for some of the successes,” said Russel Smith, director of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association.

Smith told KUT News that in those 10 years Texas has become a world leader in wind power.

It’s a fact Perry’s office doesn’t want you forget either. The governor’s office website touts millions of dollars in investment from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund in renewable energy. It even features a video of the governor announcing more than $8 million for wind power research at Texas Tech University and touting the expansion of wind power transmission into major cities.

Spence says the state has managed to spread the cost of those transmission lines among ratepayers.

“At the national level, the siting of new transmission lines has gotten bogged down in fights over whose going to pay for that,” he said. “Here we’ve chosen a kind of regional approach; some call it socializing the cost of those transmission lines.”

Perry actually faced questions at the Bloomberg-Washington Post GOP debate over his use of the emerging technology fund to finance renewable energy. And it might not be a surprise that while the governor’s state website touts renewables, Perry’s campaign website is pretty silent on the issue.

“Let’s put it this way, you can’t accomplish your goals unless you get elected,” said Smith of the renewable-energy group. “I think we’ve seen in Texas, as elsewhere, major politicians stepping back from positions they may have taken in the past that were more supportive of renewable in order to make it past the hurdles.”

But for everybody wondering aloud whether there may be a little green under Perry’s red-state politics, there’s little doubt that fossil fuels remains the focus of his energy policy in both the oil and electric industries.

“Governor Perry has been very pro-coal-fired power plants,” Ken Kramer, executive director of the Lone Star Sierra Club, told KUT News. “As a matter of fact, in 2005 he issued an executive order to the state environmental agency to order them to fast-track the issuance of permits to coal-fired power plants.”

Kramer points out that much of Texas’ wind power infrastructure was mandated by electric deregulation that took place before Perry took office.

He says if you want to know what kind of president Perry would be, all you have to do is look at who he appoints to regulate energy and the environment in Texas.

“They seem, in the main, to view their responsibility as one of issuing permits so that businesses that emit air pollution and water pollution can get to work,” Kramer said.

Getting to work will be the focus of Perry’s speech today in Pennsylvania as he unveils his jobs plan. It’s expected to have a strong domestic energy component.


About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »