It would be comforting for liberals to think that the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Texas Governor Rick Perry, is not completely irredeemable. But if ever there was an issue on which Perry seems irredeemable, it would be the environment. In Texas he has repeatedly sided with polluters, who often happen to be campaign contributors, and feuded with the Environmental Protection Agency. On the campaign trail he denies the existence of anthropogenic climate change.
The New Republic recently ran a piece hopefully explaining that Perry is actually not as bad on the environment as you might think. Of course Perry generally takes the wrong position, acknowledges the author, Erica Greider of The Economist. But that’s not out of any ideological conviction, she claims. Perry is just pro-business, and when the economy stands to benefit from environmental regulation, he’ll support it.
Unfortunately, this is untrue, according to Texas environmentalists and a closer examination of Perry’s record. Ken Kramer, director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, describes the piece as “overly generous.”
“Even during the boom years he was hostile to environmental protection in Texas,” says Jim Marston, regional director of the Texas office of the Environmental Defense Fund. “He doesn’t believe in the science, doesn’t want to know the truth about the science.”
Greider’s case rests on three examples. All three are flawed. “In every case large economic interests were behind Perry’s support as less costly or burdensome alternatives than the proposals being pushed by environmental organizations or the EPA,” says Tom Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office.
The first instance is Perry’s support for Texas’ policy of allowing polluters to reduce emissions in total rather than at every emission point. Perry credits this “flexible permitting” regime with an improvement in Texas’ air quality. The EPA, however, considers Texas’ actions to be a violation of the Clean Air Act. Environmentalists say that Perry’s policy did not cause the improvement in air quality but merely coincided with it. “The air got cleaner because of federal mandates and lawsuits,” says Marston. Kramer concurs that improved air quality is “primarily because of implementation of federal Clean Air Act and pollution controls for automobiles and trucks, which we have a lot of in Texas.” He also cites “bringing ‘grandfathered’ polluters who were not initially under the Clean Air Act from the 1970s finally into compliance.” Ultimately, he concludes, “it’s not something we would ascribe to Perry’s record or the flexible permitting system.” As Marston says, “Perry is like a rooster who thinks his crowing causes the sun to come up.”
Greider also points to Perry signing a bill requiring a minimal amount of the state’s electricity to come from wind power. But Perry was hardly a leader on the subject. Texas has ample potential for wind farming, and the bill was passed with overwhelming support in the legislature. To veto it would have been a far riskier move politically. “It was like signing a tax decrease,” says Marston.