It’s been a busy news cycle over at the National Security Council, and most of the attention has focused on the ouster of top Trump advisor Steve Bannon. That’s only half the story, though. Suddenly included in the NSC’s upper echelons is Rick Perry, the head of the US Department of Energy.
Perry is not exactly on board with the whole climate change thing, but he has a history of advocating for renewable energy while Governor of Texas, and that could make things interesting.
So, Why Is The Energy Secretary On The NSC?
Roughly two-thirds of the Energy Department’s budget relates to the nation’s nuclear arsenal and nuclear energy, which explains why the agency can and should be a key player in national defense policy.
Here’s a brief explainer from DOE:
The Department of Energy Organization Act of 1977 created one the most interesting and diverse agencies in the Federal government. Activated on October 1, 1977, the twelfth cabinet-level department brought together for the first time within one agency two programmatic traditions that had long coexisted within the Federal establishment: 1) defense responsibilities that included the design, construction, and testing of nuclear weapons dating from the Manhattan Project effort to build the atomic bomb, and 2) a loosely knit amalgamation of energy-related programs scattered throughout the Federal government.
As for the new re-organization of the National Security Council, that’s charted in an April 6 entry in the Federal Register.
In a couple of introductory paragraphs, President Trump provides a bit of history that also indicates the Energy Department should get a seat at the table:
The National Security Act of 1947, as amended, established the National Security Council (NSC) to advise the President with respect to the integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to the national security.
If you caught that thing about integrating domestic policies with foreign and military, you’re on to something.
Considering the Department of Defense’s position on climate change and national security (hint: it’s a signficant threat), this part of the introduction is also of interest:
…The security threats facing the United States in the 21st century transcend international boundaries. Accordingly, the United States Government’s decision-making structures and processes to address these challenges must remain equally adaptive and transformative.
The rest of the entry is pretty dry, except for the part where the Secretary of Energy gets “regular attendee” status on the Principles Committee, which is the “Cabinet-level senior interagency forum for considering policy issues that affect the national security interests of the United States.”
A Ringside Seat For Climate Change
So, this is where it gets interesting. Secretary Perry “softened” his position on climate change during his confirmation hearings in January.
Meanwhile, Trump’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster — who is credited with the NSC shakeup — has a reputation for speaking uncomfortable truths.
Just a wild guess, but it could be that the reality of climate change will factor into NSC discussions moving forward.
As for whether or not Perry’s confirmation hearing represents a genuine change of heart, maybe. Or, maybe not.
Back in March, for example, rumor leaked out that Energy Department staffers have been told not to use words like “climate change” in internal memos.
On the other hand, the Energy Department has continued to pump out news about its renewables initiatives, including a major community solar program.
Also of interest is the Energy Department website, which still offers substantial information on climate change. The Trump Administration ordered that topic off the White House and EPA websites (the Administration later backed down regarding EPA).
Here’s a representative sample from energy.gov’s main page on climate change:
Addressing the effects of climate change is a top priority of the Energy Department. As global temperature rise, wildfires, drought and high electricity demand put stress on the nation’s energy infrastructure. And severe weather — the leading cause of power outages and fuel supply disruption in the United States — is projected to worsen, with eight of the 10 most destructive hurricanes of all time having happened in the last 10 years.
Okay, so fossil fuel still gets a shoutout:
To fight climate change, the Energy Department supports research and innovation that makes fossil energy technologies cleaner and less harmful to the people and the environment. We’re taking responsible steps to cut carbon pollution, develop domestic renewable energy production and win the global race for clean energy innovation. We’re also working to dramatically increase the efficiency of appliances, homes, businesses and vehicles — all in support of the President’s Climate Action Plan.
Still, the page features a 2015 report on the infrastructure impacts of climate change, highlighting dire warnings about continued fossil fuel dependency:
Disruptions to oil and gas operations in the Southeast, Southern Great Plains and Alaska caused by more intense, frequent storms, hurricanes and higher temperatures.
Reduced hydropower from changes in snowpack and melting patterns in the West.
Disruption of fuel transportation in every region due to impacts like increasing heavy precipitation, heat waves, drought, hurricanes and storm surge.
Increasing electricity demand due to higher temperatures in nearly every region.
Electric grid impacts across the U.S. caused by a variety of sources, from heavy rainfall to wildfires.
Not for nothing but check out the image at the top of this article. You can find it full screen on the DOE climate change main page (here’s that link again).
If anybody is thinking that’s a sly reference to President Trump’s golf habit, drop us a note in the comment thread.
Meanwhile, today the US Senate takes an unusual field trip to Trump’s backyard in Palm Beach County, Florida for a hearing on climate change.
Image: via energy.gov.
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