Why Rick Perry Would Put the World on a Fast Track to Total Meltdown

From calling the BP disaster an "act of god" to responding to his state's drought with prayer, Perry's anti-environmental resume is extensive.

Burned trees, charred wildlife, destroyed homes — Texas has endured more than 16,000 wildfires since January, which have consumed over 3 million acres of land. With little rain, the state has become a tinderbox. Bloomberg reports that drought in Texas has resulted in $5.2 billion of agricultural losses ... and still counting. The state climatologist pegged the drought as the “worst single-year dry spell in 116 years,” according to the San Antonio Express-News.The town of Robert Lee in West Texas has seen its water supply dwindle to 1 percent and West Kemp is out of water.

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Texas Governor Rick Perry, the new darling of the GOP presidential field, leapt to action. His response to catastrophe? 

I, RICK PERRY, Governor of Texas, under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby proclaim the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas. I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on those days for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal way of life.

All the praying didn’t pay off. The federal government has been forced to declare 213 counties in Texas natural disaster areas, and the drought has already resulted in fish kills and will likely cause an ecosystem-wide ripple of destruction for years to come, affecting everything from plants to top predators, and insects to migrating birds. Ranchers are selling off their herds, residents are using water for the bare minimums of drinking, cooking and cleaning. Towns are trying to drill emergency wells or run pipes totap neighboring towns that have more water left. Other communities are making plans to truck in bottled water or drink treated wastewater.

In times like these, everyone is feeling the pinch. Well, almost everyone. It seems that the oil and gas industry is doing OK in Texas. No bigger shocker there. Although what may be surprising is how much water is used extracting these fossil fuels, especially when the practice of hydraulic fracturing is used. Fracking, as it is more commonly known, involves ejecting water, sand and chemicals underground with high pressure to access oil or gas that may be in pockets of rock. The American Independent reports:

A report released in July by the Texas Water Development Board estimated that industry uses about 12 billion gallons of water annually for hydrofracking in Texas now, but that demand will grow to 39.1 billion gallons before 2030. ...

Slate Williams, general manager of the Crockett Groundwater Conservation District in West Texas, told a Scripps Howard News Service reporter in June that there just isn’t enough water to go around. “I want them to quit using fresh water for fracking,” he said.

Unfortunately for Williams and so many others in parched Texas there is little hope that Perry will do anything to impede the oil and gas industry. Perry even recently told Iowans they were missing out on fracking and said, “Not one time that I’m aware of has hydraulic fracking impacted groundwater,” ignoring the fact that there are over 1,000 documented cases of groundwater contamination from fracking, included EPA studies dating back to 1987.

Of course, why would Perry bite the hand that feeds him? The governor has raked in over $11 million from the industry, which is why it is no surprise that his response to unprecedented drought and warming in his home state would spur a response like, "We'll be fine. As my dad says, 'it'll rain. It always does.'"

While of course, it will rain at some point that doesn't get Texas out of hot water. The longterm prognosis for Texas is hotter and drier, thanks to guess what? Yeah, climate change. Perry has dismissed climate change as just another excuse for scientists to rake in the bucks, because you know what they say about climatologists just being in it for the money. If Perry admitted that global warming was a problem, then he’d have to admit that the oil and gas industry has a big part to play in that. Texas leads the nation in greenhouse gas emissions.

If you’re a Tea Party right-winger, you’re apparently suppose to deny science at all cost. As Perry said, “I don’t think, from my perspective, that I want America to be engaged in spending that much money still on a scientific theory that has not been proven, and from my perspective, is being put more and more into question.”

Hasn’t been proven? More and more in question? That is just flat out false — unless Perry knows something that just about all of the world’s leading scientists and scientific organizations don't. A study published in 2010 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found the consensus overwhelming:

We use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC [anthropogenic climate change] outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.

So, over 97 percent are in agreement and they are also the most expert and prominent in the field. The organizations that stand behind the science are the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, American Physical Society, Geological Society of America, and the list goes on.

Perry is either not smart enough to understand the science or he is willing to blow off the largest environmental and human health catastrophe for political posturing. 

His stance on global warming though is fitting with his overall environmental record. He called BP’s disaster in the Gulf an “act of God," and has shunned any attempt to try and prevent another catastrophe. ABC News reported that Perry “lamented the lack of drilling in the Gulf Of Mexico, saying that the government should not put drilling there on hold ‘because of one event -- the Deepwater Horizon event.’” 

I guess even if that “one event” is the country’s largest environmental disaster, it doesn’t qualify for a little more oversight of industry. Perry, it turns out, would actually like zero oversight of, well, everything. Shortly after announcing his bid for the presidency, he said, “We’re calling today on the president of the United States to put a moratorium on regulations across this country.”

As Brad Johnson at Think Progress noted, this is essentially akin to total anarchy. He writes

Under such a moratorium, the Food and Drug Administration would stop approving new drugs and preventing human experimentation; the USDA would stop checking for food safety; the EPA would stop monitoring for poisons in drinking water; the Library of Congress would stop loaning materials to blind people; the NTSB would stop investigating airplane accidents; HHS would end Medicare payments; no more patents, copyrights, or trademarks would be issued; DHS would stop protecting chemical facilities from terrorist attacks; the Treasury would stop printing currency; financial sanctions on hostile nations like North Korea and Iran would end; and the Federal Reserve System would shut down. Perry’s “moratorium on regulations” would mean a literal end to the rules of law in the United States.

It doesn’t end there. Perry has also worked to fast-track 11 dirty coal plants, has skewed transportation money to roads instead of mass transit, and has been suing the EPA over the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. The Texas League of Conservation Voters named Perry to its Dirty Dozen list, saying, “Rick Perry is one of 12 candidates for state office from around the country named to the list for his consistent stances against clean energy politics and conservation initiatives.” TLCV reported that in 2009 he “vetoed a bill passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature that would have required television manufacturers to recycle their product, keeping toxic heavy metals from reaching Texas landfills.” And in 2010:

Perry’s Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) dragged its feet on shuttering the highly polluting Asarco smelter in El Paso, and is green-lighting a toxic-waste dump near Odessa over the objections and resignation of agency staff.

Perry and his appointed commissioners at TCEQ have waged a legal and political war against the federal Environmental Protection Agency because it is finally requiring polluters in Texas to follow the same laws that all other 49 states are following.

Has he done anything green? Yes. Perry has helped solidify Texas as a leader in wind energy, and has also required that fracking companies disclose their toxic recipe of chemicals they pump underground (although apparently that is not because he's worried these chemicals will actually contaminate groundwater). Both of these are great, but pale in comparison to the rest of his environmental record. David Jenkins, government affairs director at Republicans for Environmental Protection, told the Union Leader, "Based on his crusade against the EPA and air quality measures and so forth as governor of Texas, it’s kind of hard to think he'd be someone who is in sync with our idea of conservation and environmental stewardship."

Probably the most disturbing thing on Perry’s anti-environmental resume, is this tidbit from the Union Leader:

Marc Morano, a former Sen. Jim Inhofe aide who now runs the ClimateDepot skeptic blog, called Perry the “complete package when it comes to energy and environmental issues.”

If someone gets a blessing from Swift Boater and Rush Limbaugh show producer/reporter Morano, you can guarantee that is a person you wouldn’t want to be put in charge of making sure you have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and a planet that isn’t on the fast track to total meltdown. 

Tara Lohan is a senior editor at AlterNet and editor of the new book Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan.