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U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry speaks at an energy summit hosted by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and attended by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon Thursday, May 30, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
The Trump administration is committed to making fossil fuels cleaner rather than imposing "draconian" regulations on oil, gas and coal, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Thursday.
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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 proven 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."
He also touted the importance of increasing geothermal and nuclear energy.
Perry didn't elaborate on how that would be done. He was expected to speak with reporters later Thursday.
Perry previously said the Trump administration wants to spend a half-billion dollars next year on fossil fuel research and development as demand plummets for coal and surges for natural gas.
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 sponsored the event, said he and other leaders appreciate their "youthful enthusiasm" of the protesters and 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.
Perry argued that people who say fossil fuels should be kept in the ground aren't thinking through the global impact of that suggestion.
"What does that mean to a young woman in a village in Africa that doesn't have so much as a light bulb on which to read," Perry said.
He said the U.S. has responsibility to help deliver energy to those parts of the world.