Anti-Climate Science Conspiracy Theorist to Lead Trump’s Department of Energy

Jason Schwartz of Greenpeace USA discusses former Texas governor Rick Perry’s record and how his relationships with oil and gas industries will influence his tenure as Trump’s Secretary of Energy


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Story Transcript

KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown. So, two weeks after ending his tenure as the longest-serving Governor of Texas ever, Rick Perry found himself sitting on the corporate Boards of not one, but two oil companies. How? Well, the owner of Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco, billionaire Kelcy Warren, who has been a long-time financial backer of Perry’s political campaigns, he saw to it that Rick had something to do after leaving public office. But now since President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Rick Perry to be the Secretary of Energy, in what ways will his relationships with oil and gas influence his new position?

Well, to discuss this we’re joined today by Jason Schwartz. He handles media for Greenpeace USA and he joins us today from New York. Jason, we appreciate you being here.

JASON SCHWARTZ: Thank you for giving me the chance.

KIM BROWN: So, Jason, 14 years as the Governor of Texas undoubtedly gave Rick Perry a lot of hands-on experience dealing with the oil and gas industries there. So, what was his energy legacy?

JASON SCHWARTZ: I think it’s important to recognize that his energy legacy is pretty comprehensive in the State of Texas, largely because he has served sort of at the behest and largesse of the oil and gas industry — millions of dollars of campaign contributions and a basic sort of atmosphere that is hostile to science and the public furthering of beneficial climate policy. He’s a person who has consistently spread the insane theory that there is some kind of global scientist conspiracy to fabricate climate change, as if the world is not already undergoing massive catastrophic changes. Consistently, says that he’s not a scientist, as if that is a significant position to reject the scientific findings and scientific consensus of scientists across the world.

His administration directly interfered with government science, once taking any mention of climate change out of a report demonstrating sea level rise in Galveston Bay. And, you know, he also served as the Chair of the Inter-State Oil and Gas Compact Commission, which is you know, it sounds like a quasi-governmental, quasi-industrial group. It sounds pretty shady and all that is true. It’s quasi-governmental — this is a commission that is basically the biggest and least understood lobbying firm for the oil and gas industry. It’s one of the most effective entities for the oil and gas industry and right now its biggest fight is in support of fracking and gas extraction. And under Perry’s tenure, the IOGCC sort of forced it and tried out a bunch of model legislation across different States that would weaken the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act when hydraulic fracturing is happening in neighborhoods.

So, if you’re somewhere anywhere near a hydraulic fracturing well, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act don’t apply to you. So, this is basically a guy who has consistently eroded important legislation to protect people to make way for rampant oil and gas extraction.

KIM BROWN: And the interesting thing about Perry is he ran to be the Republican nominee for President in 2012 and we have that very infamous clip of then Governor Perry forgetting that he wanted to eliminate the Energy Department, of which he will soon now be heading.

JASON SCHWARTZ: Yeah, that was a pretty silly and memorable moment. The fact is the Department of Energy is an extremely important scientific body. It’s a body that depends upon science and scientific knowledge. It employs scientists from many, many disciplines. It is in charge of ensuring our energy security moving forward, as well as securing our nuclear arsenal. Somebody who wants to start eroding its capacity to do its job is utterly dangerous to the security of the American people.

KIM BROWN: So, we know that Perry was extremely cozy with oil and gas, and deregulating that energy and that sector, while he was Governor of Texas. What was his approach towards renewable energy?

JASON SCHWARTZ: You know, this is often touted as one of Perry’s important legacies as Governor of Texas, that the State of Texas saw a great increase in wind generation. And that’s true. It actually did. But that’s not because he was replacing, you know, fossil fuel infrastructure and becoming some kind of great climate champion. This was an opportunistic business decision that was, you know, brought to his State and his administration by an industry that’s growing in power — the wind industry. So, yeah, that’s been a great legacy but at the same time, he has consistently shielded and worked on behalf of the oil and gas industry.

So, it’s a little bit deceptive to say, “Oh, wow wind has expanded in Texas. Isn’t Perry a real champion of climate change legislation?” He’s not. That was just because it was good business. And you know, if we’re waiting around for the business to open up and we have a fair market place where wind and solar are put at the same level and given the same kinds of benefits that oil and gas is, then maybe we can talk about competitiveness being a way of dealing with mitigating climate change.

The fact is, Rick Perry has publicly avowed that he is not in favor of extending Federal tax benefits for the wind and solar industry. Meanwhile, he’s perfectly in favor of massive corporate welfare for the oil and gas industry and for coal. So, this is not a person who really believes in the free market when it comes to energy and power generation.

KIM BROWN: Well, speaking of the Department of Energy. I mean, as you rightfully mentioned, it oversees quite a lot, including domestic oil and our nuclear arsenals. So, the past two Energy Secretaries have been physicists. So, how does Perry stack up in this department? Does he have any credentials in this area?

JASON SCHWARTZ: No. He doesn’t have any credentials in this area. You know, 60% of what the Department of Energy does is overseeing pieces of our nuclear arsenal and nuclear, and sort of retiring nuclear facilities. As you mentioned, both of Obama’s Secretaries of Energy were deeply steeped in this work of government — and I think it’s really, really important to mention that that’s not just a figure-head position. Moniz, who is the current Energy Secretary, has been at the table in the Iran Nuclear talks, hashing out the very specifics of the technical details around this agreement. I mean, it’s only because he is a nuclear physicist that we’re getting the most beneficial deal that we possibly can.

Rick Perry has zero qualifications as a scientist, as he stated himself and would have zero ability to faithfully represent us in these kinds of high-level negotiations that are deeply technical and science-based on the international stage.

KIM BROWN: So, one piece of news that’s been making the rounds is the letter that employees from the Department of Energy received from the Trump transition team, requesting the names of federal workers who had attended UN climate talks over the past five years, along with email correspondence about those meetings. What is Greenpeace’s position about this? Because what’s interesting — that notwithstanding, number one, these employees have rebuffed the Trump transition’s teams request for these names, which is interesting information. But this also coincides with the CEO of Exxon, Rex Tillerson, who has also been named to Trump’s Cabinet as his pick for Secretary of State.

What’s interesting is that Trump’s transition team wants to know which members of the Energy Department have been involved in these climate talks, or have at least attended these climate talks. Exxon has long denied climate change, in spite of evidence from their own scientists. There have been two Attorney Generals, one from the State of New York, the other from Massachusetts, who have requested a tremendous amount of documents of Exxon, I believe going back 40 years, to demonstrate that they had knowledge about climate change and the effects of fossil fuels. To go along with that, Congressman Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, who also chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, has subpoenaed the records of these Attorney Generals who are trying to subpoena Exxon.

So, it’s like there’s an investigation into the investigation to the investigation. But now CEO from Exxon, Rex Tillerson is possibly going to be in place in Trump’s cabinet. And now Rick Perry, who currently sits on the Boards of two oil companies, as he ascends to be the Secretary of Energy, is now coming to the table, as well. And there was a piece in the Washington Post today titled, “The Oil and Gas Industry is Quickly Amassing Power in Trump’s Washington”. What are your thoughts about these, because these aren’t coincidences, obviously?

JASON SCHWARTZ: I mean my thoughts, personally, is that this is all just chilling to the bone — that you have such deep antipathy for the truth, for fact, for science and for the safety and security of the entire world population, not to mention the American people. It’s deeply chilling. This is an industry that is, by all accounts, going down, you know?

As renewables reach competitiveness in price and potential to generate electricity, as the entire world is bracing and trying to move forward on climate change, as the American people, the American electorate, consistently move forward and show that they are in favor of moving towards renewables — that they are in favor of scaling back fossil fuels — you have an industry that is desperate. Frankly, it’s a very wealthy industry, but it is an industry that sort of foresees its demise.

And so, what’s happening now is nothing less than sort of a desperate move by like an injured shark to perform some kind of hostile take-over. What happened at the Department of Energy with this questionnaire that went around was just deeply threatening and chilling. And I’m really happy to see the brave… I really admire the scientists and folks who work at the government energy firm, for taking responsibility for their colleagues and co-workers and in doing their best to obstruct this threatening interference by a person who has not even taken the White House.

KIM BROWN: Jason, so what can we expect coming down the pike in terms of our domestic energy, in terms of our approach to, you know, good environmental stewardship? Because President Obama had plenty of criticism against him in this area, in spite of signing on to the Paris Climate Accord. I mean, he also opened a lot of our lands up for fracking. So, he sort of has a mixed record in this area. But it doesn’t seem as if the incoming Trump Administration’s record is going to be mixed on this at all. It appears as though they want to go back firmly to an era where we burn exclusively fossil fuels and de-regulate a lot of polluting plants that have had a lot of negative impacts environmentally.

JASON SCHWARTZ: Yeah, I mean, you’re sort of answering your question. It’s all very, very true. I mean, sure, you know, the environmental community doesn’t always see with eye-to-eye with President Obama. But, in the end, his climate legacy will definitely go down as the strongest of any American President to date. He has restored faith in this Country on the global stage around the welfare of all of the globe’s population. And he has done so much in this country already to sort of begin a movement toward the clean energy future. Yeah, sure, plenty of problems, fracking from public lands stuff, but in the end a really powerful legacy, one that, you know, we’re continuing to push him on even to this day. He’s still bringing to the fore plenty of good legislation and protections sort of in preparation for exactly what you eluded to with the Trump Administration coming in and you know, potentially undoing years of progress.

I think you know, there are a number of very disturbing signs already — whether you’re talking about things that Trump has already said that he’s going to do, or appointees that are coming in. I don’t want to sort of pretend to have any kind of wishful thinking that it’s going to be better than what it threatens to be. All you got to do is look at his personnel, and know exactly what the man is trying to bring to this country, which is a deep threat to our security and our long-term survival as a species.

So, this is an industry, with Trump right now as its biggest proponent, that is perfectly willing to bring the American people and the global population down with it. So, I think that what you’re going to see is a sort of renewed vigor and energy across the climate movement to fight this at every step — to do it at the Federal level; to do it at the regional level; to do it at the state level. You’re going to see massive involvement from people who have never believed that they were activists before. Because groups from the grassroots all the way to the top are going to continue to open up opportunities for people to get involved.

And you’re going to see a people who, if its Federal government is not going to protect, it’s going to protect itself. So, you know, to a certain extent this is really threatening and scary but also you can’t stand in the way of progress. That progress is inevitable and the people know it.

KIM BROWN: We’ve been speaking with Jason Schwartz. He handles media for Greenpeace USA. He’s been speaking to us today from New York City. We’ve been talking about Rick Perry, former Texas Governor and a current board member at Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco, now been tapped to lead the Energy Department under President-elect Donald Trump. Jason, we appreciate your time today, thanks a lot.

JASON SCHWARTZ: Thank you so much for having me on.

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