Wind turbines on a mesa in Nolan County outside Sweetwater. Wind energy has become a booming industry in West Texas.
In the opening days of his presidential campaign, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has railed against a favorite target, the Environmental Protection Agency, and declared himself a “skeptic” on the subject of humans as the cause of global warming.
If Mr. Perry wins the White House, his national energy policy will focus on cutting federal regulations, especially at the E.P.A., his spokesman, Mark Miner, said.
“The governor’s energy priorities will be centered around scaling back the E.P.A.’s intrusive, misguided and job-killing policies, which will empower states to foster their own energy resources without crippling mandates and open the doors for our nation to pursue and strengthen an all-of-the-above energy approach,” Mr. Miner wrote in an e-mail.
“America is rich in energy resources, both traditional and renewable, and those resources should all be utilized so we can decrease our dependence on foreign energy sources and help generate greater job growth, which our nation desperately needs.”
To unpack what this means, it is worth reviewing Mr. Perry’s record on energy, a huge driver of the Texas economy. One theme that Mr. Perry often emphasizes, and that Mr. Miner suggested would help shape a nationwide policy, has been energy diversification. Over Mr. Perry’s decade as governor, natural gas drilling has surged, and wind last year supplied nearly 8 percent of the electricity on the Texas grid, up from less than 1 percent in 2000, when Mr. Perry took office. The state’s first biomass power plant began operating this month, and, contrary to the national trend, Mr. Perry has also backed construction of new coal-fired power plants.
States’ rights are another Perry talking point, and he has spoken out against federal constraints on coal, oil and gas, as well as against federal policies to aid ethanol.
Many of the changes — the gas and wind booms, for example — might have happened with or without the governor. But he has had a hand in advancing them.
Oil and Gas
Unlike many past Texas governors, including George W. Bush, Mr. Perry is not an oilman. But the oil and gas industries have applauded his policies. Mostly, of course, drillers like Texas’ low-tax, low-regulation environment, which Mr. Perry did not create but has maintained. Oilmen cheered his call to end the Obama administration’s moratorium on new deepwater drilling after the Gulf of Mexico was damaged by last year’s BP oil spill, which Mr. Perry suggested was an “act of God.”
Natural gas drilling has exploded during Mr. Perry’s tenure, with Texas production climbing 28 percent between 2000 and 2010. That is mainly because of the expansion of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the process of sending water, sand and chemicals underground to break up shale and release gas or oil. Fracking, however, has stirred concerns about groundwater and air pollution.
Mr. Perry has spoken out in support of fracking. Last week in Iowa, he accused the Obama administration of “trying to scare people, and saying that hydraulic fracking somehow or another is going to damage the groundwater.” He said that e knew of no cases in which fracking had affected groundwater and that ample natural gas might even be lying beneath Iowa.
This summer Mr. Perry signed a bill that required disclosure of many chemicals in the fracking process. State Representative Jim Keffer, Republican of Eastland and the bill’s champion, said that while the governor was “not that involved” in the legislative process, “certainly at times where we needed a little push here and there, his staff was willing and able to do that.”
The gas industry is a fan. “He’s been governor for 11 years, and he’s had a lot of opportunities to make mistakes and detract from the climate that has allowed us the predictability” to make investments, said David Blackmon, a Texas official with America’s Natural Gas Alliance. “And he hasn’t done that.”
Under Mr. Perry, Texas has moved eagerly to build coal-fired power plants, even as other states have stopped issuing permits for the plants because of pollution concerns.
In 2005, the governor issued an executive order that allowed a more rapid approval of coal plant permits. A major electric company, TXU, sought to build 11 coal-plant units, though those plans ultimately fell apart after private equity firms bought the company and committed to environmental improvements. “The biggest thing Perry did on energy was to try to fast-track 11 coal plants,” said Jim Marston, the Texas head of the Environmental Defense Fund. “And I think everybody in Texas ought to be glad that Perry’s plan failed.”
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state’s environmental agency, which is headed by three Perry appointees, continues to award coal plant permits. Nine proposed plants have received permits. (Nineteen coal plants already operate across the state.)
Mr. Perry, an outspoken fan of “clean coal,” also lashes out regularly against the E.P.A., which wants to tighten restrictions on air pollutants like ozone and mercury that could shut down older coal plants. Texas is also leading the fight against federal greenhouse gas regulation.
Arguably, Mr. Perry’s most interesting energy efforts have related to wind power, which has boomed under his administration. Today, after a decade of rapid growth, Texas is the nation’s wind leader. The groundwork was laid by Mr. Bush, who in 1999 signed a bill that — besides deregulating the electric sector — established a renewable-energy requirement that kick-started wind development.
But Mr. Perry has added to that. In 2005, he signed a bill requiring Texas to have 5,880 megawatts of renewables capacity by 2015. The state has already surpassed that requirement.
Mr. Perry has also strongly backed a $5 billion project to build transmission lines to ferry power from remote West Texas to big cities. “He has been a stalwart in defense of wind energy in this state — no question about it,” said Paul Sadler, executive director of the Wind Coalition. An extra charge of up to $5 per month on Texans’ electric bills will pay for construction of the lines.
But Mr. Perry’s backing for renewables has limits. Solar power advocates have been frustrated by his failure to support a requirement for nonwind renewables, which both the Legislature and the Public Utility Commission (whose commissioners Mr. Perry appoints) have considered but not acted on.
Asked why Mr. Perry supported one requirement but not another, Mr. Miner said that the earlier policy “created a system to incent the development of the most economic renewable generation, which for our state was wind.” He added, “If you mandate a specific technology, you run the risk of getting stuck with high costs, and such mandates have failed to pass the Legislature in the past.”
The New York Times