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Perry Touts National Energy Plan, Gas Exports

Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday called on the federal government to pass a comprehensive energy plan with a focus on natural gas drilling and exports — and to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

By Jim Malewitz, The Texas Tribune, and Neena Satija, The Texas Tribune and Reveal
Gov. Rick Perry adjusts his glasses during his appearance at the Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 21.

HOUSTON – Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday called on federal leaders to adopt a comprehensive energy plan that would accelerate natural gas production and allow for its export — and to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. 

“Now is the time for bold leadership,” Perry said in a 30-minute speech celebrating the Texas "wildcatters" who first struck oil in Spindletop in 1903 and perfected hydraulic fracturing almost a century later. 

“If the EPA can establish a date certain for compliance with power plant regulations, I’m pretty sure that Congress can set a date certain for one of the single most important actions we can take to protect national security,” Perry told the audience at a summit on climate and energy policy sponsored by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. 

The governor repeatedly pointed to “aggression” from Russia as a motive for energy independence in the U.S. and U.S. exports of natural gas to European countries. He called on “America to build an energy shield to protect our allies.”

His brief reference to the Environmental Protection Agency was Perry’s only mention of the Obama administration’s June proposal to reduce carbon emissions from power plants in order to fight climate change, which was the focus of the summit.

State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who introduced the governor, promised to “hug” the oil and gas industry and to “fight back against the EPA,” but focused the rest of his remarks on protecting Texas’ surging natural gas industry and finding more ways to use that fuel. Federal regulators have suggested that transitioning toward natural gas from coal is one of the biggest steps Texas can take towards meeting their proposed rules.

“It’s here in Texas, it’s cheap in Texas, and it’s clean in Texas,” Patrick said.

Perry’s remarks came in a rare joint appearance with Patrick — following a fundraiser in Houston that both attended. Their talks came after a series of panel discussions hosted by the foundation questioning the science of climate change and blasting the EPA’s carbon reduction plan. Under that plan, Texas would need to slash carbon emissions from its power plants by as much as 195 billion pounds of carbon dioxide in the next 18 years, according to a Texas Tribune analysis.

Earlier in the day, the audience heard from a panel of four scientists, three of whom expressed skepticism about the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are the chief contributors to a warming planet.

“The media gets to control how these things are presented,” said Roy Spencer, a climatologist at the University of Alabama and a former NASA scientist who identified himself as a “skeptic in the field” of climate science. “This is science that is driven by the funding machine,” he added.

Spencer’s work has been quoted widely by Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and he has been featured at previous TPPF events. Spencer and two other scientists on the panel heavily criticized the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of more than a thousand scientists worldwide who published a widely cited 2013 report on the state of climate science.

Zong-Liang Yang, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences, disagreed with the criticism. “It’s like an encyclopedia,” he said of the IPCC report. “This is one process that I really admire as a scientist.”

Perry and Patrick did not address climate science in their remarks, but the summit comes as some conservative leaders in Texas say the state may need to evaluate its recent approach of suing the EPA and refusing to follow its regulations. The last time Texas refused to follow federal environmental rules, it triggered unintended consequences that caused a slow-down of the permitting process and prompted an outcry from the energy industry.

Following a string of defeats­ in challenges to EPA rules, two state regulators and a former lawmaker are among those suggesting that Texas should think beyond litigation when planning how to respond to the federal proposal.

“I don’t think we want to ignore the litigation route, but I think we need to look at what we need to do — away from challenging it in court,” Texas Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman said last month.

Perry had previously called the EPA proposal the “most direct assault yet on the energy providers that employ thousands of Americans, and fuel both our homes and our nation’s economic growth.” But his name was absent from a letter 15 Republican governors sent this month to Obama urging him to drop the regulations.

“We share many of the concerns about the rule outlined in the letter," Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for the governor, said of the letter. "The appropriate state agencies in Texas are still reviewing the rule and examining its potential impacts specific to our state.”

Nashed said the state would provide a formal comment ahead of the December deadline.

Texas was not one of the 12 states that sued over the proposal last month. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Greg Abbott told the Tribune that it is rare for Texas to litigate before a rule becomes final.

Kip Averitt, a former Republican state senator from Waco, said he hopes the state does not sue the EPA this time around, because “it’s a waste of taxpayer money.”

Averitt is now chairman of the Texas Clean Energy Coalition, a nonprofit that promotes natural gas, solar and wind energy. He said Texas is well-positioned to follow the proposed federal regulations and that the state “stands to gain a tremendous amount” by shifting to more renewable energy sources and natural gas-fired power.

“Publicly, it’s good politics to bash the EPA and the Obama administration,” he said. But, he added, “The public wants to see their leaders doing what they can to responsibly address environmental issues, and hopefully, at the same time, doing good by the Texas economy.”

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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