As Secretary of Energy in the Trump* administration, former Texas Governor Rick Perry has been full of surprises. Probably no-one should be more surprised than the President himself, who has been presiding over the spectacular growth of the US wind industry and the equally spectacular collapse of the US coal industry, despite his frequent expressions of loathing for wind power and his oft-repeated promise to save coal jobs. Now that the Ukraine scandal has blown up, perhaps Rick Perry has yet another surprise in store for the Commander-in-Chief.
Rick Perry & The Squirrel Trick
Rick Perry has been high on the CleanTechnica radar ever since he was tapped to lead the Department of Energy in the spring of 2017, soon after Trump took office.
Other cabinet members have come and gone at dizzying speed, and yet Rick Perry remains — even though his agency has been shepherding the US through an energy transition that is precisely the opposite of what Trump promised to voters in coal communities and elsewhere.
His survival seems to be based his readiness to toe the Trump line when called upon to publicly support the President in particular instances, whether on energy policy or anything else.
That has pushed Perry into some pretty ridiculous territory. Nevertheless, the overall effect has been to distract Trump’s attention from the day-to-day operations of the Energy Department. The yes-man strategy has also provided more than a few opportunities for the agency — and Rick Perry himself — to engage in outright trolling at the expense of White House energy policy.
First Texas, Then The Whole US
For that matter, throughout the Trump administration Perry’s agency has kept its eyeball on climate change. The Energy Department website clearly and unequivocally states that “climate change is a top priority of the Energy Department,” and it nails cutting down on fossil fuel pollution as the key to its climate action mission.
Well, maybe the President should have listened more carefully when he first interviewed Perry for the job. Perry happens to hold the title of the longest serving governor in Texas history, and during the interview he reportedly said that he could do for the US energy sector what he did for Texas.
As it happens, Perry left behind a dismal, damaging legacy on women’s health when he served out his final term as Governor, but during his tenure Texas did take several critical steps along the way to becoming a national wind energy leader (his last year in the seat was 2015).
To be clear, state-level renewable energy policy is still a key factor in the rise of the US renewable energy sector, so it’s not like the Energy Department can claim full credit. Still, the agency has continued to promote clean power programs at every level, from R&D initiatives to support for stakeholder collaborations, job training programs, and do-it-yourself toolkits for the nation’s sprawling network of rural electric cooperatives.
So, What About Ukraine?
Where were we? Oh right, Ukraine. Yes, what about it? The whole thing is very complicated. Let’s pick a thread at random and see where it goes.
Back in 2014, a good three years before Perry took over at the Energy Department, members of Congress were advocating for an increase in natural gas exports in order to help relieve European countries from reliance on gas from Russia. The Obama administration obliged by stepping up the permitting process for exports.
Both oil and gas exports continued to ramp up during the Trump administration. That brings us to September of 2018, when Rick Perry went to Russia for a series of meetings. The Energy Department’s readouts and press releases on those meetings are quite interesting.
Here’s one sample:
“…Secretary Perry made clear that while the United States welcomes competition with Russia in energy markets across Europe, Asia and elsewhere, Moscow can no longer use energy as an economic weapon.”
“…Secretary Perry reiterated the Administration’s firm opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline because the project would concentrate a single route of Russian gas into Europe…”
“Secretary Perry believes that…the future of our relationship with Russia is predicated on successfully addressing our broader disagreements.”
But wait, there’s more. Exporting US gas to Europe was only part of the policy. The other part was creating a more favorable business environment for Ukraine to develop its own energy resources. That means, for one thing, rooting out deeply entrenched corruption.
Urging Ukraine to ditch corrupt officials was never a feel-good exercise. It was always intended to provide leading global energy developers and other investors with a stable, predictable, and lawful platform for plying their trade.
An additional bonus would be the development of clean tech resources in Ukraine (for an illustrative case involving the green angle look at Columbia, which is attracting more global investment dollars after a long battle against corruption and violence).
All this is by way of saying that Rick Perry’s conversations with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky are probably very interesting, but mainly in ways that might surprise his boss.
Meanwhile, if you’re curious about the status of Nord Stream 2, join the club. Work is under way on the project but just last month Reuters reported that Denmark is holding up the whole works.
CleanTechnica is reaching out for some insights from the firm Wood Mackenzie, which just issued a major report on the project last August, so stay tuned for more on that.
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Image(cropped): US Department of Energy.
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