US POLITICS

Energy Experts Pan Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s First Big Speech

The one consistent thing in the Trump administration: a speech filed with myths and contradictions

US POLITICS
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Apr 25, 2017 at 6:06 PM ET

Rick Perry, who famously once wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy, gave one of his first major speeches Tuesday since becoming Secretary of Energy. He addressed a room full of energy sector insiders, investors, and other experts at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit in New York. His audience was not impressed.

Perry, in sketching out some of the Trump administration’s energy ideas, remained light on concrete policies, repeated easily debunked myths, and displayed little grasp of the intricacies of energy policy, earning harsh criticism online from many attendees.

He called for what he has previously termed an “all-of-the-above” energy policy: “It is not reasonable to rely exclusively on fossil fuels,” he told the attendees. “It is not feasible to rely exclusively on renewables.” The Trump administration’s approach is meant to rely on the free market to determine the success of different energy sources —a break from what he called the failures of the Obama-era energy department.

Yet Perry repeatedly contradicted this conservative principle. He pledged the administration was committed to unraveling the “war on coal” — a line that solar energy analyst Jenny Chase tweeted was met with “eerie silence” — even though the collapse of the coal industry was driven by shifting economics, not Obama-era regulations. Perry spoke of ending the war on coal while also promising the Department of Energy would go where science leads: As clean energy expert Daniel Firger tweeted, “These two statements are diametrically opposed to each other.”

Perry also took the unusual step of explicitly tying the nuclear energy sector with nuclear weapons research, saying the domestic industry maintains the knowledge base and supply of experts needed to build better bombs.

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As attendees noted on Twitter, Perry’s analysis on this point was actually correct, but it’s rare to acknowledge it publicly. Perry generally argued for national security as justification for the government interfering in states’ energy policies. As Time energy reporter Justin Worland tweeted, “Within five minutes, Secretary Perry went from eliminating regulatory uncertainty to saying federal government might intervene in state energy policy.”

Energy journalist Christian Roselund said Perry’s presentation was “mostly mythology,” highlighting in particular Perry’s repetition of the debunked claim that the shift to renewable energy in Germany led to a huge increase in coal usage.

The speech in general avoided specifics, with Perry devoting part of his 15-minute talk to discussing the first time he visited New York. He spent much of the rest of the speech touting his energy record as governor of Texas, in particular his development of the state’s wind power sector. This gesture to alternative energy aside, Perry’s speech received largely negative reviews from the energy experts in attendance, with one tweet comparing Perry’s talk with an earlier one from summit founder Michael Liebreich.

Perry closed his speech by joking that his current job was nothing like running Texas. He was one of the only people in the room who laughed.