Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rick Perry's pipe dreams: More land grabs for Big Oil & Gas campaign donors

Perry banking on pro-drilling energy plan

Image credit: Richard Saunders


By Christy Hoppe and Elizabeth Souder
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2011

DALLAS — Rick Perry, looking to take the offensive on job creation and revive his struggling campaign, is poised to advance a “drill here, drill now” initiative with a heavy reliance on environmental deregulation and new pipelines.

Perry has been under pressure to release an economic blueprint and his campaign will fully unveil the energy plan Friday in Pennsylvania. He touted it in Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, without many details, as a way to create 1.2 million jobs and free the country from its foreign oil dependence.

Critics are already dismissing the underpinnings of the plan, saying that any president would lack the authority to implement it, that Perry underestimates the country’s affinity for environmental protections and that he will face the kind of fierce resistance to oil pipelines that dismantled his Trans Texas Corridor.

The plan, as previewed in a column Perry wrote this week in the New Hampshire Union Leader, would ostensibly require no congressional action and would include boosts for renewable energy. The emphasis is on opening oil and gas shale formations to drilling in the Alaska Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, offshore and throughout the continental U.S.

At the same time, Perry would shut off any new federal regulations on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” or on drilling and toxic emissions, which he calls “job-killers.”

Jim Marston, director of the state’s Environmental Defense Fund, said most voters won’t want to replicate Perry’s Texas record.

“I don’t think Texans want us to be this dirty, and I’m very comfortable that the rest of the nation does not want to surpass us,” Marston said.

The Perry campaign declined to provide any further details of the plan, but many of the jobs Perry cited presumably would come from projected boosts in manufacturing and purchased goods from reduced energy costs.

“Economic growth and security should not be pit against environmental stewardship,” Perry wrote, saying he would create high-paying jobs at the same time continuing to protect the environment.

Texas Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman, who helped the governor craft the new energy policies, told The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday that new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on endangered species and drilling techniques create uncertainty for the industry and slow production.

He called for a “moratorium on new EPA regulations in traditional drilling areas.”

The drilling component doesn’t differ much from President Barack Obama’s decisions in office, said University of Texas professor Michael Webber.

“Perry wants to do the same thing Obama did, only he wants to do it dirtier,” said Webber, associate director for the university’s Center for International Energy&Environmental Policy. He pointed out that U.S. oil production has grown under Obama after decades of contraction.

Smitherman said new pipelines are key to Perry’s energy plan.

“It’s not just drill, drill, drill, because we’re drilling a lot now,” Smitherman said.

He pointed out that consumers are buying high-cost international oil because the country lacks the pipelines to bring U.S. oil to major refineries.

New lines almost always spark protests. Already, more than 800 have been arrested around the country over the massive 1,700-mile Canada-to-Texas proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The high-pressure, underground pipeline, a $7 billion project that could produce thousands of jobs, is fraught with environmental risk, from extracting tar sand oil — one of the dirtiest sources of energy — to the pipeline crossing private property, aquifers and large populations.

The same private-property right groups that helped upend Perry’s signature transportation idea, the Trans Texas Corridor, have joined with environmentalists in Texas to fight the proposal.

Dave Carney, Perry’s chief political consultant, cast the governor’s plan as a bold one that he could act on immediately as president.

“His energy plan/jobs plan — this sort of a Declaration of Independence — is not just about foreign oil; it’s not just about American production,” said Dave Carney, Perry’s chief political consultant. “It’s things that the president can do in dealing with regulation.”

Marston, the Texas environmentalist, disagreed, noting that the federal lands in Alaska are protected by an act of Congress and can only be changed by Congress. Some of the mandates on lowering emissions have come from recent court orders, including a U.S. Supreme Court decision that says carbon dioxide regulation falls under the Clean Air Act.

“I’m sorry but we’re a country of laws, not one man,” Marston said.

Polls also show there is little public sentiment for rolling back environmental regulations.

And other experts challenge one of the underlying premises of Perry’s plan: the contention that pollution controls cost American jobs.

Bruce Bartlett, a former senior official with the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, has noted that according to federal statistics, just 2,971 jobs were lost in 2010 because of government regulations. Overall, the country lost 1.3 million jobs that year.

“Regulatory uncertainty is a canard invented by Republicans that allows them to use current economic problems to pursue an agenda supported by the business community,” Bartlett wrote this month in The New York Times.


(Staff writer Todd J. Gillman in Hanover, N.H., contributed to this report.)

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