U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s June 7 Op-Ed demands an immediate response. Secretary Perry argues that we will have more economic development and jobs, more energy and a cleaner environment as a result of the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. But he fails to support his argument with sound logic. This shouldn’t surprise us — before he was named Secretary of Energy by President Donald Trump, Perry was advocating to eliminate the very Department of Energy he now heads.
Fortunately, we know a few things about energy in Pennsylvania, and especially here in Pennsylvania’s Fifth Congressional District. Pennsylvania is second to none on energy leadership. When Pennsylvania coal was powering the industrial revolution, Texas was part of Mexico. The first oil well in the world was drilled in the fifth district. The Marcellus and Utica shale deposits can provide low-cost, relatively clean power for decades if used responsibly.
Low-cost natural gas is crowding other fuels out of the market. Nuclear power can’t compete with natural gas and that industry is now asking for a taxpayer bailout. Similarly, coal cannot compete against natural gas. Coal burning power stations are switching to natural gas to save money. Pulling out of the climate accord will not change these facts. Rick Perry wants to damage our environment and leave us nothing to show for it.
Natural gas burns far more cleanly than coal or oil, but large amounts of unburned natural gas, primarily methane, escape into the atmosphere during the extraction and distribution process. This extremely potent greenhouse gas is a major pollutant. Methods for detecting and addressing methane leaks should be a requirement if we are going to expand our reliance on natural gas.
Never miss a local story.
We must also continue to develop renewable energy resources like solar and wind. According to Fortune Magazine, there are now twice as many jobs in solar energy than in coal in the U.S. As Barry Commoner urged more than 40 years ago, let’s use our abundant but finite natural gas as the bridge-fuel to a renewable energy future.
Support for renewable energy research is essential to accomplishing this. Secretary Perry says in his article that “America must continue to be a leader in energy technology development and delivery,” but he and President Trump are proposing a 70 percent cut in renewable energy research at the Department of Energy.
We can also create jobs protecting the environment. Pennsylvania’s unspoiled forests, our clean lakes, rivers, and streams help make us a tourist destination, which means jobs and economic development. The RECLAIM Act of 2016, proposed by Republican Rep. Harold Rogers from Kentucky, would allot $200 million to put out-of-work coal miners back to work restoring land and water resources adversely affected by coal mining. Rick Perry should fight for the Republican sponsored RECLAIM Act.
The U.S. Department of Defense has defined climate change as a threat to the national security interests of the United States. President Trump’s own Secretary of Defense James Mattis has stated that climate change is a threat to American interests abroad and the Pentagon’s assets everywhere. In pulling out of the Paris climate accord, President Trump stands with Syria and Nicaragua — instead of with our friends and allies. Sadly, Perry is following suit.
It is possible to develop energy resources, create jobs, and protect the environment, but not the way Perry says. Were we to harness the global will behind the Paris accords, we would not only protect our environment, but also would spur energy innovation and foster economic development. But, this cannot happen without better leadership in Washington, as Perry’s article makes clear.
Kerith Strano Taylor is a practicing attorney in Brookville. She was the Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania’s Fifth U.S. Congressional District in 2014 and 2016.