Potential Interior, DOE picks prompt outcry

Source: Robin Bravender and Hannah Northey, E&E News reporters • Posted: Tuesday, November 22, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump’s meetings yesterday with possible Interior and Energy secretary picks have already sparked a backlash from the left.

Trump was scheduled to meet with Oklahoma Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and former Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who are rumored contenders to become Interior and Energy secretaries, respectively.

Environmentalists were quick to paint the potential nominees as industry cronies who would seek to dismantle environmental regulations and push energy extraction on public lands.

“Breaking campaign promises, Donald Trump is quickly building a corrupt Cabinet of special interest executives and their paid-for politicians,” said Greenpeace spokeswoman Cassady Craighill.

Craighill called Fallin a “fracking industry shill and critic of basic public health measures like the Clean Power Plan.” The Fallin and Perry possibilities, she added, “provide evidence that a Trump administration will work against science, renewable energy job growth and the American people. To drain a swamp, you don’t hire a team of gators and muskrats. These appointments will be met with opposition as they represent the opposite of who should be in charge of our public lands and energy.”

Before she took office as Oklahoma’s governor in 2011, Fallin served in the House of Representatives, where she was on the Natural Resources Committee. She’s seen as a staunch supporter of the oil and natural gas industries, and bills herself as a backer of renewable sources like wind energy as well as energy efficiency.

The League of Conservation Voters has given Fallin a lifetime score of just 4 percent, based on her voting record in the House.

Fallin spokesman Michael McNutt said the governor’s meeting with Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence included a discussion of “possibly serving in their administration,” and they talked about the Interior Department, but there was “no offer given.”

One environmental advocate said Fallin’s background raises flags for the conservation community.

“The extractive industry in Oklahoma is king; it runs just about everything. It is not exactly the balanced sort of individual background I think you’d be looking for to manage the nation’s iconic parks and public lands.”

That person expected the environmental community to be “staunchly opposed” to any of Trump’s Interior picks. “It’s hard for me to see a situation where the environmental community is going to support or even be willing to consider a Trump nominee for Interior if it’s any of the names that have been floated.”

Bill Horn, a former Reagan administration Interior official who is now an attorney, said opposition is expected, but he welcomed Fallin’s resume.

She’s “not noteworthy for anything off the wall, radical or crazy,” Horn said.

“I think governors can do a pretty good job because they’ve got executive experience,” he said, noting that managing the sweeping agency is “always a challenge.”

If Fallin gets the job, “you’d probably find a renewed focus at [the Bureau of Land Management] on leasing programs, both coal leasing and mineral leasing for oil and gas, that kind of work,” Horn added. “That’s probably the dominant focus that you would expect coming from a state like Oklahoma.”


Perry’s potential appointment as Department of Energy boss prompted similar criticisms. He became the butt of jokes five years ago when he forgot the name of the agency he wanted to eliminate in a nationally televised presidential debate: DOE (Greenwire, Nov. 21).

Andrew Dobbs, program director with Texas Campaign for the Environment, said Perry has “disregarded human health and the environment in every position he’s ever been trusted with.” Dobbs said the prospect of Perry taking over at DOE is “deeply concerning and puts all living things in this country and around the world at risk.”

Other Texas environmental advocates see the former governor’s record as more of a mixed bag.

Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said Perry is generally someone who as governor tended to see the industry’s side of things. But Reed quickly noted the former governor had a hand in boosting Texas’ wind industry.

Perry, he said, supported a program that allowed local communities to provide property tax breaks to manufacturers — as well as wind and solar farms — in return for local contributions. Perry also approved legislation in 2005 that increased the state’s renewable portfolio standard and created corridors for high-voltage transmission that supported renewable energy development, Reed said. The state now has a growing clean energy sector.

“I do give him credit because he didn’t listen to the naysayers that said we couldn’t do this, that said it was too grandiose,” he said. “It was actually far more successful than people imagined it would be, and we now have something like 18,000 megawatts of wind installed by the end of this year.”

But Reed said the former governor did take steps to fast-track the permitting and construction of coal-fired power plants in 2007, fueled by assertions that the state was energy-poor and vulnerable to shortages. A Texas judge would ultimately block permits that Perry issued, ruling that the governor didn’t have the authority to speed up the review process (Greenwire, Feb. 21, 2007).

Perry’s policy reflected his strong support from the fossil sector, Reed said, adding that the former governor has also been skeptical of the science behind human-induced climate change.

“It would be wrong to call him a pro-renewable greenie by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “He wouldn’t be our first choice, and we are concerned about putting someone who’s been a climate skeptic, or at least not an embracer of the idea, at the head of the Department of Energy.”

Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, joked today that Perry might get the job “if he can remember where it is.”

If he becomes Energy secretary, “Rick Perry is going to try to really push fracking and not worry very much, at all rather, about the enormous environmental consequences associated with the methane emissions or the water contamination or the frack-quakes,” Smith said. Still, Smith lauded Perry’s record on wind production, which he said could be a large part of Trump’s planned infrastructure build-out.

Despite what he called Perry’s “mixed record” on energy, Smith thinks the negatives outweigh the positives.

“If Rick Perry becomes Energy secretary, I won’t be celebrating Thanksgiving this year,” he said.