Three months after the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told a cable news program that he doesn't believe carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are a primary contributor to climate change, Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry doubled down on the same program, blaming global warming in part on the world's oceans.
Perry, who is scheduled to testify three times this week about the Trump administration's proposed $28 billion budget for the DOE for fiscal year (FY) 2018, also used the interview as an opportunity to tout the administration's all-of-the-above position on energy issues. He also pushed back on criticism that $3.1 billion in proposed cuts to energy programs will hurt the energy industry.
"Most likely the primary control knob [for climate change] is the ocean waters and this environment that we live in," Perry said Monday in an interview with Joe Kernen, co-host of the "Squawk Box" program on CNBC. "The fact is this shouldn't be a debate about [whether] the climate is changing and is man having an effect on it. Yeah, we are. The question should be just how much, and what are the policy changes that we need to make to affect that.
"This idea that science is just absolutely settled, and if you don't believe it's settled then somehow you're a Neanderthal, that is so inappropriate from my perspective. I think if you're going to be a wise, intellectually engaged person, being a skeptic about some of these issues is quite all right."
Kernen posed the same question in March to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who said he did not agree that CO2 is a primary contributor to global warming, but conceded that additional analysis was necessary.
DOE programs not cut 'in totality'
Speaking from the sidelines of the SelectUSA Investment Summit in National Harbor, MD, Perry exuded confidence that DOE's upcoming budget negotiations would go well.
"It's always good to keep people on their toes as we go through this budget process," Perry said. "Obviously, President Trump is looking to deal with the deficit that we've got. It's reflected in his budget."
Kernen pressed about the budget cuts. "Some of the budgetary cuts are going to come in renewables [or] clean energy," Kernen said. "There's something to be said for the renaissance in natural gas, fracking and horizontal drilling, which really might have pushed out the economic competitive nature of a lot of these [sources of] alternative energy. Is that one of the reasons that funding is being cut on some of these other programs [at DOE]?"
Perry responded by pointing out that dire predictions made 10-12 years ago that the nation was going to run out of oil in the near future were wrong.
"It's going to be the innovation at our national labs, working with the private sector, that come up with ideas about energy [and] sources of energy," Perry said. He said the Trump administration is taking an "all-of-the-above approach to energy...We're not necessarily going to be cutting a bunch of programs out in totality. What we're going to be doing is looking at these agency functions -- what can be consolidated? How do you get rid of duplicative efforts? [But] I know there are a lot of people standing on the sidelines saying 'Oh, they're going to get rid of clean energy.'"
Perry called it "perfect timing" when Trump announced on June 1 that the United States would withdraw from the global climate agreement negotiated by close to 200 countries in Paris in late 2015. At the time, Perry said he was en route to the Clean Energy Ministerial meetings in Beijing.
Withdrawing from the Paris accord was “perfect timing from my perspective, where I could stand up in front of 20-plus leaders from around the world, from energy departments and ministries, and say 'America is not backing away from being a leader in clean energy," Perry said. "We've led the world in the reduction of emissions, we're going to continue to do that. We just happen to think that the Paris accord was a bad deal for America."
LNG exports a 'great opportunity'
On the other hand, Perry said liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports are "a great opportunity" for America.
"Twelve years ago, we were working pretty hard in Texas to build and accept import facilities for LNG. Now all along the Gulf Coast, particularly in my home state of Texas and in Louisiana, there are export facilities," Perry said. He added that European countries were "very interested" in LNG, pointing out that Poland and the Netherlands were recent importers.
"If you want to clean up the environment, you shift from older, inefficient [power] plants to these natural gas burning plants. It's what we did in Texas when we saw emissions go down drastically. I think we led the nation in the reduction of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. We had almost a 20% reduction of CO2 during the 14 years that I was governor.
"The opportunities are fabulous, and again America can lead this renaissance of energy. They can also economically create a huge amount of jobs...with foreign and direct investment in the United States."
Environmental group taken aback by comments
Shaye Wolf, spokeswoman for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Perry "has the science exactly backward," according to a report.
"Far from being climate change's key cause, the world's oceans are actually another victim of greenhouse pollution," Wolf told the Washington Post. "Our oceans absorb millions of tons of CO2 a day, making them dangerously acidic. They've also soaked up most of man-made global warming's excess heat, putting tremendous stress on marine life."