Rick Perry’s Holy War


Rick Perry’s War on the War on Coal continues.

The Energy Secretary, who last fall declared that among fossil fuels’ many noble attributes is the power to stop sexual assault, recently told a Texas audience this week that the worldwide shift away from fossil fuels is “immoral.” Said Perry: “Look those people in the eyes that are starving and tell them you can’t have electricity. Because as a society we decided fossil fuels were bad. I think that is immoral.”

Perry has emerged as a fairly evangelical holy warrior for fossil fuels: in addition to testifying to their morality, he also has said that the U.S. is “blessed” to be able to provide fossil fuels to the poor peoples of the planet. In discussing the rape-preventing power of fossil fuels, Perry cited the “light that shines, the righteousness, if you will” that coal-powered illumination provides.

Apparently, in Perry’s Bible, when one is anointed with oil, it’s light sweet crude.

Perry’s rhapsodizing about the piety of coal and oil would be little more than a distraction – and another testament to the quality of Donald “I Will Hire the Best People” Trump’s cabinet choices – were it not accompanied by troubling policy choices that are designed to prop up the fossil fuel industry at the expense of renewables.

As noted previously in this space, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously rejected Perry’s plan earlier this year to subsidize struggling coal and nuclear plants, rejecting DOE’s argument that safeguarding the nation’s electric guard necessitated letting coal and nuclear plants charge more for power.

But Bloomberg is now reporting that Perry is not letting go. Now the Energy Department is contemplating letting Perry “use his authority as U.S. energy secretary to spur emergency compensation for coal plants run by FirstEnergy Solutions that may be at risk of shutting.” According to Bloomberg, Perry has the authority under the Federal Power Act to order a power company to keep a plant online and provide compensation, if doing so would “serve the public interest.”

And Perry has allies in his battle: a number of lawmakers from Ohio and surrounding states – from both parties – are now pushing the administration to trigger the FPA’s provisions to save FirstEnergy. As the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports, their argument rests on national security: “[O]ne argument links the nation’s current competitive edge in nuclear weapons to the health of its commercial atomic energy industry.”

To sum up: fossil fuel is not only a moral imperative that protects young girls from sexual assault, but bailing out struggling coal plants also protects us from our nuclear annihilation.

That’s a pretty powerful argument. It is also ridiculous and, worse, dangerous.

To suggest that keeping coal plants open serves the public interest ignores the reality that coal severely harms the public’s health. Coal production releases toxins into the air and water – poisons that are widely known to cause cancer, delayed childhood development and other health issues. And burning coal adds tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, making the effects of a changing climate even worse. As for national security, the Pentagon itself maintains that “climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security.”

The only thing worse than Perry’s effort to save coal is the fact it’s happening at the very same time the Trump administration wants to slash DOE’s energy efficiency and renewable energy programs by a whopping 65 percent, while increasing spending on fossil fuel programs. At a time when the rest of the world is investing in the energy technologies of the future, the White House’s budget looks like something from the 18th century.

If Rick Perry is truly concerned about the well-being of all those “starving” people lacking electricity, he would direct his Department to double down on supporting energy technologies that don’t worsen climate change and poison the environment – particularly at a time when the cost of renewables continues to drop.

Policymakers can identify ways to help the developing world with the costs of transitioning to a low-carbon economy. What the U.S. government should not do, however, is go to battle on behalf of polluting sources of energy. That’s a war we ultimately will lose.