Trump’s Oily Cabinet
Former Texas Agricultural Commissioner Jim Hightower says Energy Secretary Rick Perry might not be able to undo his agency’s current sustainable energy research, but he’ll certainly be an advocate for more nuclear energy and fossil fuels
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.
Former Texas Governor and failed presidential hopeful, Rick Perry, has been approved by the Senate as Secretary of Energy in Donald Trump’s new administration. Many are wondering not only is he fit for the position, following in the footsteps of nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz, but whether Perry’s ties to the oil industry will kill renewable energy research programs at the Department of Energy.
And with us to discuss Perry’s track record as Governor of Texas, and previous to that, as Texas Agricultural Commissioner, we’re joined by Jim Hightower. Jim is a national radio commenter and he’s a writer and public speaker and New York Times bestselling author, Jim has spent four decades battling the powers that be on behalf of the powers that ought to be — consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses and just plain folks. He also, himself, a former Texas Agricultural Commissioner.
Jim, we appreciate, and welcome back to The Real News. It’s been too long since we’ve had you on.
JIM HIGHTOWER: Well, it has been. I’m glad to be back. Thanks, Kim.
KIM BROWN: All right. Well, first, let’s take a look at a clip of Senator Bernie Sanders grilling Rick Perry at the committee hearing.
BERNIE SANDERS: I’m asking you… I’m asking you if you agree with the scientific community that climate change is a crisis and that we need to transform our energy system to protect future generations.
RICK PERRY: And, Senator, I will respond that I think that having an academic discussion, whether it’s with scientists or whether it’s with you, it is an interesting exercise. But do I have a record of affecting the climate in the world and in this country, and the answer is yes. When you lower carbon emissions by 17% and sulfur dioxide by 66% and NOx by 58%, don’t you think that is a good thing?
BERNIE SANDERS: Well, I think what would be a better thing is for you to say right now that you recognize that we have a global crisis and that the United States of America should help lead the world, working with China, Russia, countries around the world, to transform our energy system. Let me change…
KIM BROWN: Jim, so Perry mentions how, as governor he reduced emissions in Texas of C02 and other gasses, and he talked about the wind projects that he helped to bring about, so tell us about his track record as Governor. Was he as progressive on renewable energy and greenhouse reductions as he makes himself out to be?
JIM HIGHTOWER: Well, no. He did some good things certainly with the wind energy, but his main push was for oil and gas and for nuclear power — not just nuclear power but nuclear storage in our state. He had the grand idea that Texas should be the nuclear dump for the entire United States, which is an odd thing for a governor to be pushing. But the reason he did that was because, I think it was his number one or at least number two campaign contributor happened to have a very large nuclear waste dump out in West Texas that he needed some nuclear waste to put into. And so, Perry was pushing very, very hard to make Texas a repository for high-level nuclear waste.
You mentioned Moniz, the previous Secretary of Energy, and Steven Chu before that, the Nobel Laureate, these high-level academics. But we’ve got to be fair ’cause Perry, himself, was quite a student of science at Texas A&M. I’ve got his transcript here. He got a C in general chemistry, two semesters in a row. But then he took organic chemistry and he moved up. He got a D. And then he took Organic Chemistry 2 and he moved up yet again getting an F in that. So his scientific background is pretty well established.
KIM BROWN: Indeed. Well, during the committee hearing Former Governor Perry bragged about fracking being developed in Texas. So talk about his ties to the oil industry, Jim.
JIM HIGHTOWER: Well, Harold Simmons, who headed the Waste Control Specialist Corporation, was a multi-million dollar contributor, he and his family, to Perry particularly, but to a whole host of right-wing legislators and corporatists in government policy positions, here in our state, to push that particular fossil fuel industry and nuclear industry on our people, on our state. Perry was an eager cheerleader for it. In fact, when he got named Secretary of Energy by Donald Trump, a guy he once described as completely incompetent and unqualified to be president and, of course, a guy who had also called for the elimination of the Department of Energy in his governor … period running for president of the United States in 2012.
So he’s been out there and we’ve got a situation here where he’s not going to be able to eliminate the sustainable energy programs that are in place through the Department of Energy, but he will be able to slow some down. He can stall it but he mostly will be able to push oil and gas in a heavier way than he has in the past. And, of course he’s going to be in charge of the nuclear arsenal of our country — the most powerful weapons program on the globe. And I can hardly wait to see him have control of the controls of that.
KIM BROWN: So, Rick Perry has an interesting political background because he started out as a Democrat, but in 1990 turned Republican. Perry challenged you, who was then the incumbent Democratic Agricultural Commissioner of Texas. So talk about his track record as Agricultural Commissioner. And what kind of campaign was that like, Jim? How did that campaign end up playing out?
JIM HIGHTOWER: Well, actually it turned out well for me ’cause it freed me from state government to make a living running my mouth, basically. But, it was not Perry who beat me, it was Karl Rove. Karl Rove was his campaign manager, he had recruited Perry to switch parties and run against me. Perry was a very lackluster candidate in those early days, he later became better.
But Karl Rove put him out in West Texas going to Farm Bureau County meetings because he didn’t know how to speak in Dallas or Houston or San Antonio. So he got him out of the way and then he raised a bunch of money for Perry and put all that on TV. So they had ads showing the guy setting a flag on fire and throwing it on the ground and then out of the flames came my picture, as though I was the one burning the flag. Had me posing with Jesse Jackson, running those ads in East Texas, as a direct racist ploy to turn white over there — some white voters — against me.
So that was the nature of the campaign. Perry then took over as Ag Commissioner and basically proceeded to try to undo all the progressive things we’d put in place, including trying to eliminate the pesticide regulation program we’d installed. Trying to undo the organic production certification program we’d started in our state, trying to undo the diversification of agriculture programs, the conservation and water, etcetera. He became, basically, a whore for the oil and gas industry and the chemical industry in our state, and he continued pretty much doing the same thing as governor. And I have no doubt he will persevere along that same path as Energy Secretary.
KIM BROWN: Jim, the stated mission of the Department of Energy is to “Ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.” So do you think that we see a transformation of the Department of Energy under Rick Perry’s watch?
JIM HIGHTOWER: He will be an advocate, as Trump will be. So he will have the full support of the President. After all, Perry’s career was in the ditch and he was clearly going nowhere else until Trump reached down and plucked him out of that ditch and threw him into the Energy Department that he had advocated previously should be eliminated.
So, you know, Jack Nicholson once said the he fully understood the meaning of irony, when his mother called him “son of a bitch.” Well, now we’ve got Perry, ironically, heading an agency that he had wanted to eliminate — now he fully supports its continuation because, of course, it has the high duty of giving him a position in Washington or maybe even in life. But I think he will totally listen to the scientists on nuclear weapons and nuclear storage and that sort of thing because he’ll be too afraid to do anything else. And I’m guessing even Trump would want that same thing. But then, in terms of what the Energy Department’s gonna push, is going to be more nuclear power and more oil and gas.
KIM BROWN: You know, we’re seeing a very fossil fuel-friendly, or oil-soaked as some have put it, shaping up under Donald Trump with Perry heading the DOE and former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State — actually, newly confirmed Secretary of State, per Wednesday’s news. And, throughout this Trump cabinet, it’s just very oil and gas friendly. So what do you think it signals for Trump’s agenda going forward?
JIM HIGHTOWER: Oily. That’s what it’s going to be. Internationally, Trump has said that we should have gone in and taken Iraq’s oil and maybe we should do it yet. He’s going to push the oil prices, try to drive them up, as Saudi Arabia and other major Middle Eastern oil producers are trying to do right now. Which means misery at the pump for those of us who our attachment to the oil industry is at the gas pump. But he will push that, Perry is certainly going to be a team player. He’s going to be right in line with whatever Trump advocates and wants to do.
Now Tillerson, you know, is a big fracking guy. Because Exxon is a major fracker. I think the number one in the country. And he did, though, a year or so ago, object to fracking up in Denton County, north of Dallas. Because one of his many homes is located there, a little ranchette, and he liked to sit out on the porch and watch the sunset. But there was a water tank on the horizon that spoiled his view and that was a water tank used to provide the water for fracking. So he loves fracking when it’s putting money in his pocket, but he didn’t like fracking when it was on his horizon in the way of his view of the sunset.
KIM BROWN: Well, this week the U.S. Department of Energy reported that the U.S. solar industry employed nearly 374,000 people in 2015 and 2016 — double the number of jobs in oil, coal and gas combined. Yet, Trump and the GOP say that expansion of the fossil fuel infrastructure will create jobs and give the U.S. “energy independence”.
Whose interests do you think that they are supporting? I mean, after all Donald Trump has called for a return to the coal-based economy in some places, specifically, West Virginia and Ohio. So this does not line up necessarily with the Department of Energy’s own findings when it comes to employment in sectors of renewable energy versus fossil fuel.
JIM HIGHTOWER: Exactly. These are people who have never given a damn about ordinary people having jobs, particularly jobs at good wages. But now whenever they want to push an energy extraction program or a development of any kind, it’s always about jobs, you know. “If we could just have that XL Pipeline running through the country, well, then that’ll create all these jobs.” In fact it creates about 50 jobs that are full-time, long-term jobs.
The same thing with the coal industry. It’s tragic that they would exploit the anxieties of coal miners — rather than developing a transition program that makes sure, in Appalachia, right where they live, that they have jobs. New tourist jobs, new solar and alternative energy jobs, new jobs of any kind. But, no, they just say, “Well, we’re going to have jobs.”
Well, they’re not gonna have those jobs. They’re not gonna come back, not because of any war on coal, as Trump and Mitt Romney before had claimed that Obama was engaged in, but because of the cost of energy. You’re mentioning alternative fuels — we have solar power now that is down to the level of coal per unit. And that’s the cheapest fuel that there is of fossil fuel. So that’s not going to come back.
The future is, for job creation, for innovation, for rural communities and small towns — the future is in wind and sun and other alternative fuels, conservation included in that. So that’s where we ought to be putting our energy and, unfortunately, they’re just trying to dupe the people.
KIM BROWN: We’ve been speaking with Jim Hightower. Jim is a former elected Texas Agricultural Commissioner. He’s also a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and New York Times bestselling author. Jim, we really appreciate you speaking with us. Good to have you back.
JIM HIGHTOWER: My pleasure, any time.
KIM BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.