Energy Secretary Rick Perry became the latest senior member of President Donald Trump’s administration to publicly advocate for staying in the Paris climate accord, saying the U.S. should renegotiate the deal and push European nations to take on a larger share of emissions reductions.
“I’m not going to tell the president of the United States to walk away from the Paris accord,” Perry said at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in New York on Tuesday. “I will say that we need to renegotiate it.”
The remark puts Perry among a small group of Trump advisers who favor sticking with the landmark United Nations agreement, which the president vowed to scrap during his campaign. The debate has largely played out behind closed doors, with environmental chief Scott Pruitt and top strategist Steve Bannon pushing for a pullout while White House adviser Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson advocate sticking with the deal.
The White House has said it will decide by next month what to do with the deal involving more than 190 nations struck in the French capital in 2015. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman joined a group of 14 state attorneys in urging Trump to reconfirm U.S. involvement in the Paris deal, saying fighting pollution is a public health matter.
“If the Trump Administration refuses to uphold its legal obligation to New Yorkers’ public health and environment, I am prepared to use every tool in my power to protect our people and our state,” Schneiderman said in a statement.
Perry, speaking to investors and executives at the conference on the future of energy, criticized European nations starting with Germany for “cheerleading” the Paris deal even as they allow emissions. In Germany, closing nuclear plants has prompted utilities to burn more coal, raising pollution in the process. The U.S., on the other hand, has aggressively cut emissions by allowing natural gas to replace coal, Perry said.
“Don’t sign an agreement and expect us to stay in if you’re not really going to participate and be a part of it,” Perry said. “We need to renegotiate it. They need to get serious.”
Perry, who oversaw a record expansion of wind power during his tenure as Texas governor, said clean energy had an important future in the U.S. The statement was a rare endorsement of renewables from an administration that touts an all-of-the-above energy strategy but reserves its most positive rhetoric for fossil fuels.
“We are going to ensure that renewable energy finds its way to the grid,” Perry said.
For the most part, however, Perry didn’t veer from Trump’s energy script. He made clear that fossil fuels would be the centerpiece of American energy. He pledged to protect nuclear power. And he vowed that the administration would roll back regulations curtailing coal, gas and oil production.
“These politically driven policies — driven primarily by hostility toward coal — threaten the reliability and the stability of the greatest electrical grid in the world,” Perry said.
Perry’s comments came days after scientists demonstrated in cities across the U.S. against proposed federal research funding cuts and in response to Trump’s skepticism toward the science behind global warming and other matters.
The energy secretary, who oversees national laboratories, praised the work of federal scientists during his remarks, calling them “some of the brightest minds in the world.” Yet he may no mention of climate scientists also feeding into DOE policy. And he said the Trump administration would not “hijack science for pet causes,” indicating that it’s renewables that have benefited from government policy in the past.
“No reasonable person can deny that the thumb — and in some cases the whole hand — has been put on the scale to favor certain political outcomes,” Perry said.
Earlier this month, Perry ordered a study of the U.S. electric grid, with an eye toward examining whether policies favoring wind and solar energy are accelerating the retirement of coal and nuclear plants, potentially jeopardizing the stability of the grid.
During an on-stage interview, Perry was asked if the administration would interfere with state policies requiring utilities to get power from renewable sources. Such a move would potentially destroy efforts by California, New York and other states to fight climate change by encouraging the growth of clean power.
Perry didn’t rule it out, saying the reliability of the grid was a matter of national security.
“That’s a conversation that will occur over the next few years,” Perry said. “There may be issues that are so important that the federal government can intervene.”