Rick Perry’s Pro-Industry, Anti-Public Health Record

Juan Parras says Trump’s nominee to head the Department Energy has been an opponent of policies that would protect public health and benefit public safety

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Story Transcript

KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown. President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Former Texas Governor Rick Perry to head the US Department of Energy. The announcement was made today from Trump’s transition team. Let’s take a look at that infamous clip of then-Governor Rick Perry during his bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

RICK PERRY: It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: Commerce, Education and the – what’s the third one there? Let’s see about that.

MAN: But you can’t name the third one?

RICK PERRY: The third agency of government I would do away with, the Education, the, uh…

MAN: Commerce.

RICK PERRY: Commerce. And let’s see… I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry.

MAN: laughs

RICK PERRY: Oops.

KIM BROWN: Forever funny. Now, the Department of Energy was the agency that he couldn’t remember on his list of those he said he wanted to scrap — the one he has now been tasked to head up. So, what will the DOE look like under Secretary Rick Perry, with him in charge of the agency he proposed eliminating?

Well, with us here to discuss this, and Rick Perry’s track record as Governor of Texas where he served from 2000 to 2015, is Juan Parras. He is the Director of the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, also known as TEJAS. Juan has also been organizing environmental justice communities since 1994. He currently serves as the Environmental Justice Ambassador for the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, and he is a recent recipient of the 2015 Robert Bullard Environmental Justice Champion Award from the Sierra Club. He’s joining us today from Houston, Texas. Juan, thank you so much for being here.

JUAN PARRAS: Thank you for the invite.

KIM BROWN: Well, let’s talk about Rick Perry, because he has touted his record of job creation in Texas — Texas is, of course, a leading oil-producing and the second largest and most populous state in the Union. So, is there any truth to Rick Perry’s boasts on job creation?

JUAN PARRAS: Well, if you look at his record from 2000 when he was election, the unemployment rate was 2.5. And then up until 2010, when he left office, it was 8.3. So that’s the unemployment rate — it actually got higher instead of lower.

KIM BROWN: Well, how much of the job creation was in the fossil fuel industry? And talk to us about the effects on communities that that industry has had in Texas.

JUAN PARRAS: Well, there has been a lot of growth in the fossil fuel industry because we are considered the petrochemical capital of the nation. Our state supplies almost 73% of the fuel and necessary products that are made by the chemical industry. So we are progressive in that area, that we do have a lot of jobs in that area because we are the capital of the nation in the gas and oil industry.

But it does have a lot of influence on communities of color, primarily those that are on the fence line. We have a lot of evidence that indicates that if you live within a two-mile radius of the Houston Ship Channel, which is primarily where the Houston petrochemical industry is located, there’s a 56% higher risk of contacting leukemia. So there are consequences to the jobs created here in terms of health, impacts to communities that live on the fence lines.

KIM BROWN: Indeed. Well, it came out today in a piece in the Washington Post that scientists across the country and internationally are massively saving federal government climate data as they think that there might be a purge, and a possible purge of another sort — or one might say a witch hunt, because the Trump transition team has asked the Energy Department for a list of names of employees who have been involved in meetings on climate change, both on domestic carbon cuts and internationally. So, do you think that the Energy Department is about to transform in relation to action and information-sharing on climate change under a Secretary Rick Perry?

JUAN PARRAS: No, I don’t think he’s going to be transform. I think he’s going to continue the same old style of trying to dictate to communities and the federal government what they can and cannot do. We definitely need the EPA — and I know that’s another federal agency that President Trump has appointed a person that we actually don’t like over here in Region 6. These two individuals, Pruitt and Rick Perry, are probably the two worst candidates that he could have picked to lead those agencies, primarily because they are very pro-industry individuals and we, again, like I said earlier, we consequently in communities, it creates jobs, but it also creates a lot of health impacts, a lot of our fence line communities are coming down with cancer, asthma, birth defects and whatnot, and that’s a cost issue that is never looked at. Always, we look at the cost issues affecting the industry, but not necessarily the cost impacts of health on communities bordering the petrochemical industry.

KIM BROWN: Rick Perry will be replacing Ernest Moniz as the Secretary of the Department of Energy. Now, Moniz is a nuclear physicist. Under President Obama, he’s been serving as Secretary since May of 2013. So, he’s been praised for his work on the Iran deal by some. But many environmentalists have been critical of Moniz’s policies for being “too fossil-fuel-friendly”. Can we expect even more drilling and fracking across the US in the near future? I think the answer seems a bit obvious.

JUAN PARRAS: Yes, it’s very obvious. I think we can be assured of that and guaranteed that that’s going to happen. And that being the consequences, I think that we in communities have to organize and just figure out how we’re going to fight the belly of the beast here in Houston, and then how we’re going to mobilize and help other communities in the entire nation.

KIM BROWN: There seems to be a pattern with new Trump appointees. He seems to be picking a lot of climate deniers, a lot of fossil-fuel-friendly figures, as you mentioned. Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State and now Rick Perry to head the Energy Department. What do you think they’re gearing up for, Juan?

JUAN PARRAS: Well, for sure, these are individuals that do not believe in climate change. And I think what they’re gearing up for is to try to convince us, as you know, as they’ve been effective in convincing a lot of people that things are going to be great in America, but I think it’s going to be great maybe for a certain industry in America, and then it’s going to be terrible for those that live next to those petrochemical refinery plants.

It’s going to change the dynamics, nationally, and I think that the trend is going to be very pro-industry and very fossil fuel industry, when we should be changing to a green economy, coming up with more solar energy and wind power — and that’s the trend that we ought to be looking at and not at increasing the fossil fuel industry.

KIM BROWN: As you mentioned earlier that Texas is a petrochemical state and Rick Perry was Governor there for quite a long time — 15 years — I didn’t realize that he was Governor for that duration. So, talk to us about how the landscape changed while he was Governor of Texas, and talk about the pushback from environmentalists while he was governing that state and what environmentalists are now focusing on, or could be focusing on under a Trump administration.

JUAN PARRAS: Well, one of the things that happened under the Rick Perry Administration is that … our current governor, they filed 39 cases against the Federal Government on rules and regulations and implementation of policies that the Obama Administration was pushing forward. So we have a history in our state of just filing a lawsuit against the EPA or anyone else in the federal agency that we don’t agree with. And it’s a bad history, because it’s all those policies that the Administration wanted to pass and in some cases did pass, are for the benefit of the communities and also for public health and public safety. So, again, I think that what’s going to happen is that we’re going to have a tougher fight on our hands with those two individuals up there.

KIM BROWN: It’s been reported that Rick Perry is a member of the board of the Energy Transfer Partners, which is the company that is constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Are you concerned, or do you think people in the environmental advocacy faction, wing, are concerned about this seemingly a conflict of interest about how Former Governor Perry could become the Secretary of the Energy Department while either still serving or had previously served on the board of the Energy Transfer Partners? It seems that Energy Transfer Partners would have a vested interest in what the Energy Department does.

JUAN PARRAS: And I agree with you. And it’s the same thing that’s been said of President-elect Trump. That there’s definitely a conflict of interest that we’re all looking at. But under the new administration — and maybe something that he’s not going to be worried too much about, but I know that we are– because it’s precisely those conflicts of interest that bring about things that communities desperately are fighting against, especially environmental groups like ourselves and others.

So, I think, again, it sends the message to all the environmental groups out there that we’ve got a fight on our hands — and it’s not only us, but it’s communities that are the pipelines are going through. It’s an issue of eminent domain issue. It’s an issue of, you know, who’s right and who’s wrong and who owns those lands and territories, a violation of treaties, again in relation to indigenous folks. So we’re looking, again, at a tremendous struggle for environmental groups who’ve made progress throughout the years, who may end up losing all of that initiative that we had to bring about change.

For instance, I’ll give you a for-instance — under the West Texas explosion that happened while Rick Perry was Governor. He had done actually very little to change and deal with chemical security policy in our state. And our state, according to just the Department of Homeland Security, our state is a prime target for terrorists because we have everything that a terrorist would be looking for to do some serious damage to our nation. So, policies should be coming up or being drafted to address the seriousness. But instead, it’s lagging behind. It’s like, if we don’t talk about it, nobody knows about it, nobody will deal with it. So I see a lot of serious issues that are going to crop up, not only in Texas but throughout our nation.

KIM BROWN: We’ve been speaking with Juan Parras. He is the director of the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, also known as TEJAS. He has been organizing environmental justice communities since 1994. Juan, we appreciate your time in joining us today. Thank you so much.

JUAN PARRAS: Thank you.

KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.

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