The Trump administration is committed to making fossil fuels cleaner rather than imposing “draconian” regulations on oil, gas and coal, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Thursday.
Perry made his remarks at an energy conference in Salt Lake City that was briefly interrupted when protesters took the stage to criticize the administration’s fixation on fossil fuels as a misguided approach that ignores climate change. The demonstrators were escorted out by police.
The former Texas governor said the government has proved it can make traditional energy sources cleaner.
“Instead of punishing fuels that produce emissions through regulation, we’re seeking to reduce those emissions by innovation,” Perry said. “We have proved that we can make our energy cleaner without surrendering one single fuel, one bit of growth, one iota of opportunity.”
Perry told reporters that efforts are already underway to reduce emissions by using liquefied natural gas and shuttering old, inefficient coal-fueled power plants.
Perry previously said the Trump administration wants to spend half a billion dollars next year on fossil fuel research and development as demand plummets for coal and surges for natural gas.
He also touted the importance of increasing the use of nuclear energy and geothermal energy. A report released Thursday by the Department of Energy suggests geothermal electricity generation could increase more than twentyfold by 2050, Perry said.
He also highlighted a $140-million project funded by his department to support a University of Utah research laboratory studying man-made geothermal energy.
The protesters interrupted a panel discussion and stood on stage in front of the seated Perry, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon as they talked about energy policy.
The group of about 25 people sang and held signs that read “Invest in our future, not climate chaos” and “Your time is up. Climate Action Now.”
Some of the conference attendees booed as the lights were dimmed. After several minutes, conference organizers put on loud music as they waited for police to come and escort the protesters out.
After they left, Herbert, who hosted the event, said that he and other leaders appreciated the “youthful enthusiasm” of the protesters and that their voices should be heard and respected. But, he said, the call to immediately discard fossil fuels and shift entirely to renewable energy isn’t realistic.
“It takes some time to transition without crashing the economy,” Herbert said. “They would like us to quit by Friday and not take anything out of the ground. That obviously doesn’t work from a practical standpoint.”
Perry argued that the U.S. has a “moral responsibility” to help provide energy to other parts of the world in the form of petroleum and coal.
“What does that mean to a young woman in a village in Africa that doesn’t have so much as a lightbulb on which to read?” Perry said.
Gordon, a Republican, said Americans need to better appreciate the value of fossil fuels and understand they need to be part of the energy mix.
“Fossil fuels have generated more wealth than anything else for our country, for our people,” Gordon said. “Moving our energy postures forward doesn’t mean we have to crush somebody else.”