Rick Perry, the US energy secretary, has justified the use of fossil fuels by saying they could prevent sexual assault in African villages.
The Republican was speaking about the importance of electricity in developing countries and African villages, and added that it could "shine a light" on the perpetrators of sexual assaults.
Speaking at an event sponsored by Axios and NBC News, Perry said electricity was important "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".
He continued: "[From the standpoint] of how you really affect people's lives, fossil fuels… play a role in that. I happen to think it's going to play a positive role."
He made the comment after sharing a story about a young girl he had met during a visit to Africa, who had to read by the light of a fire with noxious fumes.
Perry's comments have been criticised by the Sierra Club, America's largest environmental group.
Executive director Michael Brune said: "It was already clear that Rick Perry is unfit to lead the department of energy, but to suggest that fossil fuel development will decrease sexual assault is not only blatantly untrue, it is an inexcusable attempt to minimise a serious and pervasive issue.
"Women, and particularly women of colour, are among the most severely impacted by the climate crisis, and it is these same communities that are most at risk of sexual assault."
Energy department press secretary Shaylyn Hynes told The Hill that Mr Perry made the comments after hearing stories of how electricity improves life in African villages.
She said: "One person told him about how light can be a deterrent to sexual assault and security in remote areas. Those powerful stories stuck with him and that is what he was sharing with the crowd."
Mr Perry said he was challenging an "inaccurate narrative" that fossil fuels are harmful because they cause climate change.
The energy secretary's comments come amid a wave of allegations in Hollywood and UK politics of sexual assaults.