Energy Secretary Rick Perry seemed to say on Thursday that expanding the use of fossil fuels could prevent sexual assault.
Perry was speaking on an energy-policy panel hosted by Meet the Press host Chuck Todd and Axios founder Jim VanderHei. He discussed his recent trip to Africa, where he said he spoke with a young girl who told him electricity was important to her so she would no longer have to “try to read by the light of a fire and have those fumes literally killing people.”
Immediately after that, Perry added: “But also from the standpoint of sexual assault. When the lights are on, when you have light that shines, the righteousness, if you will on those types of acts.”
“So from the standpoint of how you affect people’s lives, fossil fuels is going to play a role in that,” he concluded. “I happen to think it’s going to play a positive role.”
The Department of Energy later attempted to clarify, saying Perry meant to speak about how electricity could improve the lives of Africans. “The secretary was making the important point that while many Americans take electricity for granted there are people in other countries who are impacted by their lack of electricity,” said agency spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes.
When Perry was in Africa for an energy conference last week, “one person told him about how light can be a deterrent to sexual assault and security in remote areas,” said Hynes. “Another leader told him about how women in their country have to go to the store every day for a new carton of milk because they don’t have a working refrigerator. Those powerful stories stuck with him and that is what he was sharing with the crowd in Washington today.”
Perry also said during Thursday’s panel that he does not believe humans are the primary cause of climate change, telling Todd and VandeHei, “I still think the science is out.”
The former governor of Texas, Perry made one of the more memorable gaffes of the 2016 Republican presidential primary. During a debate, he said he would close three federal agencies as president. Perry named two and forgot the third, later adding it was the Department of Energy.
Upon being named Energy Secretary by President Trump in January, Perry said he would not be putting himself out of a job after all, having failed to realize what important work the agency did.