Rick Perry’s Deep Ties to Dakota Access Pipeline
Trump’s potential Secretary of Energy has major conflicts of interest with the Dakota Access Pipeline and would push forward a dangerous proposal for nuclear waste management, say Steve Horn and Diane D’Arrigo
DHARNA NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Dharna Noor, joining you from Baltimore.
Governor Rick Perry, up for the job of the Head of the Department of Energy, the department he so famously wanted to eliminate, has been called “the darling of the oil industry,” with connections to the company that wants to build the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. And it turns out he may also be a good friend to the nuclear power industry.
So with us to unpack all the details are Diane D’Arrigo who joins us from Washington, D.C. Diane is the Radioactive Waste Project Director at Nuclear Information and Resource Service or NIRS. NIRS works for a nuclear-free, carbon-free future and to prevent making climate change worse by stealing the resources needed for energy efficiency and renewables.
Also joining us today is Steve Horn. Steve is joining us from Indianapolis and he’s a Research Fellow for DeSmogBlog and a freelance investigative journalist whose work is featured in the Intercept, the Guardian, The Nation and Truthout. Thanks so much to you both for joining me.
DIANE D’ARRIGO: You’re welcome.
STEVE HORN: Thanks for having me.
DHARNA NOOR: So, Steve, I’m going to start with you. What is Rick Perry’s connection, exactly, to the Dakota Access Pipeline?
STEVE HORN: Well, it’s a pretty direct one. So, Rick Perry basically before he was nominated to become United States Secretary of Energy by President Donald Trump, the I guess then President-elect Donald Trump, he was on the Board of Directors of the owner of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, and, you know, that’s as direct as it gets. But there are more connections than that. He was one of the candidates for the Republican Party for the presidency. And sitting on his advisory committee was the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, Kelcy Warren. Kelcy Warren, in 2012, when he ran, through his company, Energy Transfer Partners, was the top donor to Rick Perry’s campaign.
And what’s odd about the 2016 run is that, at the time that Perry was running, he was actually under criminal indictment in Texas for abuse of power for threatening a county attorney general. And at the time, when I wrote about it in 2015, it struck me as odd. Of course, Iowa was the first caucus, the first place for the primaries to go, and that’s one of the states through which Dakota Access Pipeline goes. So it made me wonder at the time, was he pretty much only in the presidential race, given that he was under criminal indictment at the time, to promote the Dakota Access Pipeline?
So this whole story has really come full circle since I’ve been following Dakota Access at the beginning of 2015, to the point now that Rick Perry could soon become the Secretary of Energy of the United States of America.
DHARNA NOOR: And, Diane, Rick Perry also supports a plan for what’s being called “a parking lot dump for waste storage.” Could you explain to us what exactly that dump is and why you think he’s supporting that?
DIANE D’ARRIGO: Well, as Steve just said, Rick Perry is very conflicted. He has clear conflicts of interest with two of the major carbon and nuclear industries that are threatening the country right now. Within the past 18 years, the top donors have been Harold Simmons, the owner of Waste Control Specialists, and Kelcy Warren, the CEO of Dakota Access Pipeline company. They donated to Perry — Simmons, $1.35 million, and $1.78 million from Kelcy Warren.
So we’ve got a dirty energy advocate being nominated to the Department of Energy. The Department of Energy is responsible for what happens with nuclear waste in the country. And the dump that is in Texas, that Perry has consistently supported, now wants to open its doors to a supposedly interim, a temporary site for nuclear waste. So it wouldn’t solve the nuclear waste problem, it would simply put nuclear waste from around the country — the hottest, most dangerous material known — on roads, rails and waterways. It would trigger tens of thousands of shipments on trucks, barges and railroad cars through our communities, through cities, through the bread belt. It would put all of us at risk so that a private company could make a profit on nuclear waste and it does not bring us any closer to really solving and isolating the waste in the perpetuity that’s needed.
Now, we know that Perry is supportive of this dump because when it was being licensed, in the State of Texas, under his governorship, the technical people at the Texas agency that was doing the licensing unanimously recommended against licensing the dump at Waste Control Specialists or WCS. Because it did not protect the water. Now this same site is being proposed for high-level waste, as well. So the Perry appointees approved the license for the dump against the technical team’s opposition. And, in most states, unanimous technical opposition to a license might mean something to the regulators but not in Texas under then Governor Perry.
DHARNA NOOR: In Rick Perry’s confirmation hearing for U.S. Energy Secretary, the Senate seems to go a little bit easy on him. His hearing lasted about three and a half hours and that seems really long, but, I mean for context, Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt’s hearing for Environmental Protection Agency had lasted nearly six hours. Rex Tillerson’s hearing for Secretary of State — Rex Tillerson, of course, the retired ExxonMobil CEO — was eight and a half hours long. So why do you think Perry’s hearing was relatively short? Let’s start with you, Steve.
STEVE HORN: The answer to that I came to is that, if you look at what was happening that day, which was the Thursday before the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump, Donald Trump was coming into D.C. for his first lunch, the Leadership Luncheon, that was part of his inauguration festivities. And, looking at the big picture, these inauguration festivities were all sponsored by big corporations including JPMorgan, including other banks, including Chevron. And this is a lunch that many Senators had RSVP’d to. I don’t have the whole list in front of me, but some of the media was allowed in for a little bit until they were kicked out, the mainstream media, cable news.
And you could hear Donald Trump introducing some of the people who were there was his cabinet nominees, it was his donors and it was members of Congress, including the Senate, including people on the committee that were part of that hearing. And so one of them that was named was Cory Gardner who’s a key member of that particular committee, a Republican Senator in Colorado. And it just so happens that Cory Gardner takes a lot of campaign money from Chevron, is a major supporter of gas exports which came up in the hearing. It was a topic that… even some news was broken during that hearing. John Barrasso said he was going to introduce — of Wyoming, the Republican Senator — he said he was going to introduce a new bill to expedite permitting, which goes through the DOE and goes to through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He said that he’s going to introduce a bill to expedite that permitting process. So they were happy to discuss that and talk about what they were going to do. But there wasn’t much time for questioning on the part of, Democrats, for example, because many of the Republican Senators had to shuttle off to lunch, which took place at, I believe, one o’clock when the hearing began at 9:30.
DHARNA NOOR: Diane, do you have anything that you want to ad? Why do you think that Rick Perry–
DIANE D’ARRIGO: I can’t, you know, explain why Senators weren’t more critical. They certainly should have been. Some may have also received campaign contributions from the same people that he does. We do have a problem in our government with the private corporations contributing large amounts to election campaigns. But what we do need for our senators to do is to get someone in to that position who is going to promote renewable energy.
It’s important at this point that nuclear and coal and the carbon industries be replaced by renewables and by efficiency. And Perry is not a champion of these things, even though there was a lot of wind that developed in his state under his governorship, he wasn’t a big pusher of it and he certainly hasn’t done much to push for solar. So what we, unfortunately, need is our senators to be more critical of this candidate and to require, whoever is in that position, to move the country into efficiency and renewables.
DHARNA NOOR: Before this hearing, Perry was on the record as a climate change denier already. Today, there was a leak from Trump’s transition team showing that Trump wants to totally gut the EPA, and back in 2011, Rick Perry said he wanted to eliminate the EPA when he ran for Republican presidential nominee. You might remember he actually forgot the name of the EPA. Let’s take a look at that clip.
RICK PERRY: And I will tell you, it’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education and the, uh, what’s the third one there, let’s see?
MAN: Gimme five.
RICK PERRY: Oh five. Okay, so, commerce, education and the, um… um…
RICK PERRY: EPA, there you go. No, I can’t…
DHARNA NOOR: And now he seems to be back-pedaling a little bit on the issue of climate change. He admits that it’s real, but he says its connection to human activity is not… is dubious as it needs more debate.
Let’s take a look at Senator Bernie Sanders drilling him during the hearings.
RICK PERRY: You’re asking me what am I gonna do–
BERNIE SANDERS: 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, 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.
DHARNA NOOR: A new GOP talking point seems to have developed. There’s a kind of pivot and duck going on where there’s an acknowledgment that climate change is real, but not of the connection to fossil fuels or to other human activity. So, Steve, talk about that sort of strategy and where it’s coming from.
STEVE HORN: Well, the first time I’ve really seen that tactic used prominently was in an opinion piece that ran in the Wall Street Journal by, I believe, Charles Koch, where he talked about how climate change was a real thing, the extent of it that is human cause is not really fully known but it’s at least partially caused, that’s the first time I saw it. And I’ve now heard Rex Tillerson say it. I believe he pretty much said the same thing at his hearing for Department of State, to become the Secretary of State. It’s increasingly becoming the new talking point. Before that one was the, “I’m not a scientist,” talking point and that one’s been completely discredited. Before that was, of course, the climate change is a hoax. There’s no way that humans caused it. So they’re moving closer and closer to acknowledging that humans cause climate change. This is… they’re going about halfway there now. So it’s made progress, but I think that that’s the origins of it and it may lie in the Koch world. I can’t say with 100% certainty but I did see that was a pretty prominent op-ed piece that ran in 2016 by Charles Koch.
DHARNA NOOR: Rick Perry would be replacing President Obama’s Secretary of Energy, a nuclear scientist Ernest Moniz who came under fire for being pro-fracking, pro-natural gas. So talk about Moniz’s legacy. Talk about what his legacy will mean, what some of the critiques of him were and then also how now the Trump administration will sort of differ from that.
DIANE D’ARRIGO: Well, Moniz is a scientist. He, unfortunately, also was an advocate of nuclear technology. That seems to be the bottom line requirement for Department of Energy is to promote nuclear, where nuclear actually is stealing the resources needed to replace both carbon and nuclear and just to move into an energy-efficient and safe energy future. So unfortunately, both of those people are not good on the nuclear issue. And, unfortunately, what Perry threatens to do for the sake of profit of a corporation that has given him a lot of donations, could put the whole country at risk from moving nuclear waste on our roads and rails and waterways to a dump that is not even needed.
DHARNA NOOR: And, Steve, can you talk a little bit about what you think the legacy of Ernest Moniz will be and how the coming Trump administration will compare?
STEVE HORN: Well, so Moniz, when he was nominated, one of the biggest critiques of him from the environmental community was that his background, at least in large part at MIT when he was an academic there, was in promoting the use of natural gas and oil too, and fracking.
So when he was first nominated he was coined a “frackademic”. And he’s pretty much sort of carried out that legacy, or he did carry out that legacy, as U.S. Secretary of Energy. There were three LNG terminals that passed through that were approved by Department of Energy — two on the Gulf Coast, one on the East coast, the Dominion Cove Point LNG Terminal.
So LNG will be a big part of his legacy and so will a whole lot of money that was poured into research and development of the continuingly failing effort to create “clean coal”, as well as lots of money in academia grants from the Department of Energy to refine fracking techniques, to do things like tapping the methane hydrates. Really, the dirt is in the details, if you look at the budget and what kind of programs DOE research involvement money that was going into. And a lot of it was in the oil and gas sphere.
DIANE D’ARRIGO: A big portion of the responsibility as Secretary of the Department of Energy has to do with managing the nuclear weapons complex, which apparently Perry didn’t even realize when he said that he would like to have the job. And a problem that we’ve had with Moniz, and with every other administration before, is that there’s a huge mess from the nuclear weapons and nuclear power development in this country. There are a dozen plus sites across the country that need millions and billions of dollars to clean up and to prevent from leaking out into the environment — waste that will be hazardous for literally millions of years.
And every year, the states that have these facilities have to go and grovel to Congress for money for those cleanups and for the management of those sites. Perry says he’s a great manager, but he didn’t even know that he had to manage this huge problem. And it’s very frightening that this administration could possibly move ahead and relinquish its responsibility. This is waste that the U.S. Government is responsible for, its communities across the country that are threatened, and we need full funding for the cleanup of these facilities.
So it’s completely unclear. Perry wasn’t even asked… Well, it was brought up in his hearings by a couple of the senators who have such facilities in their districts and he said he would look into at it. But we’ve got, as I say, dozens of these sites across the country that need increased funding to keep from getting worse, and to try to isolate. So it’s a really big problem and it’s a big part of the Department of Energy.
We are in a very precarious situation with regard to nuclear weapons. The Department of Energy is the agency that makes nuclear weapons. And the Trump administration has been frightfully talking about ramping up and starting back into the Cold War kind of rhetoric that put us in such danger for decades. So I’m really hoping that whoever takes over the reins at the Department of Energy is able to advise in a way that will mitigate and not regress back to that horrible brink of nuclear disaster.
DHARNA NOOR: Steve, Diane, thank you so much for joining me today.
STEVE HORN: Thanks for having us.
DHARNA NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network