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Who Will the Next Energy Secretary Be? Perry or Manchin

energy-department-2The two leading candidates to be US Secretary of the Energy are meeting Monday with President-elect Trump: Former Texas Governor Rick Perry and Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia.

Perry has long represented oil and gas interests while Manchin has served the coal sector, given their state’s economic concerns. But how would those backgrounds impact energy policy going forward and what could energy and environmental managers expect?

While the two potential political appointments are from different parties, they do represent the causes to which Trump said he is committed, which is the facilitation of more domestic energy sources that would, in turn, reduce the prices that everyone pays for energy, including corporate America. Pursuing such a path, though, would lead to greater carbon dioxide emissions, which may affect this country’s results under the Clean Power Plan and the Paris accord that seek to limit those releases.

News reports indicate that Perry is the leading candidate, who had an “oops” moment during the 2012 presidential election year in which he said if elected back then, he would eliminate three federal agencies: one of them would have been the Energy Department, except he forgot it at the time: “And I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education, and the… what’s the third one there? Let’s see …”

As for Perry’s posture on such issues as the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline that the Obama administration has blocked, it is a near certainty he would support each one, albeit with some minor concessions. In the case of Keystone, it was denied on grounds that it would lead to increased carbon emissions while the latter has been blocked because it is said to course through sacred Indian grounds and potentially damage water supplies there.

Like Trump, Perry has expressed doubts about the true impact of manmade global warming.

Manchin, on the hand, says that he has been a proud Democrat his whole life and that he supported Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign. Global warming is real, he says, but quickly adds that jobs and economic development in his home state of West Virginia are more important.

“There is no question that global warming is real and that 7 billion people have impacted the world’s climate,” says Manchin. “There is also no doubt that fossil fuels will be part of our energy portfolio for years to come.”

Manchin, whose comments were delivered during a hearing to discuss EPA’s Clean Power Plan, notes that coal and natural gas, together, now provide 68 percent of this country’s electricity. But he cautions that EPA will, at some point, get natural gas in its sights – the same way it has done with coal. He emphasizes that coal-fired generation has cleaned up its act – that emissions have dramatically fallen since the Clean Air Act was first enacted in 1972.

West Virginia’s senior senator and its lone Democrat in the Congress has been a strong advocate for increasing research and the public funding given to advanced coal projects — everything from cleaner power plants to taking coal and converting it natural gas or oil. Those ideas had more appeal when the price of oil was more than $100 a barrel and the price of a gallon of gas was $4.

He would also favor the construction of more natural gas pipelines, which includes those to be built in his home state and those brand names to be constructed elsewhere, like Keystone. For example, Duke Energy is constructing Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is to go through North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

Meantime, the derailment of CSX Corp. rail cars in February 2015 in West Virginia may have further convinced Manchin, and others, of the need for safer forms of oil transport. There have been other rail accidents too. All share a common thread, which is that they were carrying North Dakota-based shale oil that had been plucked from tight formations in the Bakken region — one of the nation’s richest shale oil deposits.

Why is Manchin even interested in this energy secretary position? He may feel that his political luck has run out in West Virginia, given that the Republicans have taken over the state legislature there as well as the seats in the US Congress. That’s not to say he could not win re-election in 2018 given his broad appeal and his name identification. Still, he has a target on his back:

“We fully support President-Elect Trump draining the Swamp, and we promise to do our part in 2018 by defeating Joe Manchin and ending his family’s reign of self-dealing here once and for all,” says Conrad Lucas, chair of the WV Republican Party. 

Both Perry and Manchin would augur well for more coal, oil and gas exploration combined with the infrastructure to help move it. That may keep supplies flowing but it is bound to upset environmentalists who say that it could potentially harm the air and water.

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