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Trump Reportedly Tabs Perry as Energy Secretary

Dec. 13, 2016
The selection will put the vast Energy Department in the hands of a man who once vowed to shut it down, but forgot its name during a debate.

Donald Trump has chosen Rick Perry to be Energy Secretary, putting the onetime presidential candidate and former oil-state governor atop the agency that helps chart the nation’s energy future, according to four people familiar with the president-elect’s selection process.

Trump offered the job to the former Texas governor on Monday evening and he accepted, according to the people, who asked not to be identified in advance of an announcement expected later this week.

The selection of Perry puts the vast Energy Department in the hands of a man who once vowed to shut it down but forgot its name during a debate.

As the longest-serving governor in Texas, Perry, 66, was an advocate of "American energy," and oversaw a state that is a powerhouse in both fossil fuels and renewables. It is the nation’s biggest producer of oil and, thanks to a wave of turbine installations, has the capacity to generate more wind energy than any other state.

Perry is at least the third cabinet pick considered friendly to the oil industry, with Trump’s selection of Exxon Mobil Corp. chief Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has a history of suing the Environmental Protection Agency, as chief of that agency.

Trump is also expected to name Jay Martin Cohen, a retired Navy rear admiral, as the Energy Department’s undersecretary for nuclear security, one person said.

Perry twice ran for the Republican presidential nomination, presenting himself as a pro-business candidate and touting Texas’s strong job-creation record during his tenure. The first bid faltered after a series of gaffes. In the most famous, Perry was unable, during a 2011 debate, to name the third federal agency that he wanted to disband along with the departments of commerce and education. It was the Energy Department. A second run, launched in 2015, began with high expectations but ended amid low poll numbers after only a few months.

In Texas, Perry viewed energy policy as a tool for economic development, with investments in renewable wind power as well as traditional fossil fuels. That background could be a limited asset for Perry, though. Despite its name, the 39-year-old Energy Department’s chief role is managing the national nuclear weapons complex, promoting nuclear security and advocating nonproliferation. Under President Barack Obama the department also has prioritized the advancement of clean-energy technologies.

Perry’s nomination breaks with a recent tradition of putting scientists steeped in physics at the top of the Energy Department. Among other things, the agency is responsible for policies on the safe handling of nuclear material and on emerging energy technologies. Perry earned a degree in animal science from Texas A&M University.

Ernest Moniz, the current energy secretary, is a nuclear physicist who previously headed an energy initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was preceded by Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate who directed the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and was a professor of physics and molecular and cellular biology.

Trump has promised to unleash domestic oil, gas and coal production, largely by rescinding “job-killing” rules and environmental regulations. Although the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency would be the target for much of that regulatory rollback, a questionnaire circulated by Trump advisers signals future scrutiny of the Energy Department’s national labs and loan guarantee programs.

Perry’s Texas roots gave him a close-up view of the U.S. energy renaissance, as the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques helped drive domestic oil and production to near-record levels.

But Perry also helped drive the development of wind power in Texas, by signing legislation requiring the state to boost how much electricity it derived from renewable sources. He also supported a program to build thousands of miles of power lines ensuring wind power from Texas’ gusty panhandle could be sent to urban areas. 

When Perry took office as governor, Texas had 116 megawatts of wind power; it now boasts 18,000 megawatts, said Jennifer Layke, global director of the World Resources Institute’s Energy Program. "If the incoming secretary truly wants to boost America’s economy, health and security, he should look no further than extending the department’s commitment to clean, renewable energy," Layke said.

Salo Zelermyer, a former senior counsel at the Energy Department now with Bracewell LLC, said Perry’s tenure as Texas governor "embodied the type of all-of-the-above approach to U.S. energy production that many have advocated on both sides of the aisle."

"This track record will serve Perry well not only in leading the Department of Energy but also in becoming a significant part of the new administration’s approach to issues like regulatory reform and infrastructure investment," Zelermyer said by e-mail. "As Texas has shown, it is indeed possible to successfully balance appropriate environmental regulations with domestic energy production and use."

Perry was indicted in 2014 for abuse of power and coercion after threatening to veto funds for the Travis County office that investigates corruption unless the district attorney, who had pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated, resigned. Perry pleaded not guilty, and an appeals court dismissed the final counts in February, determining that a court limiting the governor’s veto authority violated separation of powers provisions of the state constitution as well as his free-speech rights.

Perry serves on the board of Energy Transfer Partners LP, the company whose pipeline project has drawn opposition in North Dakota and has become a rallying cry from environmentalists. While the Obama administration has stalled the project, Trump has signaled he will speed federal approvals for energy infrastructure.

Perry engaged in a public feud with the EPA over U.S. biofuel mandates, after leading an unsuccessful campaign in 2012 to persuade the agency to lower quotas.

James Richard "Rick" Perry was raised by tenant farmers in the West Texas town of Paint Creek. He was the first member of his immediate family to attend college. From 1972 to 1977 he served in the U.S. Air Force, flying C-130 aircraft in Europe and the Middle East. Perry boasts of being a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and the American Legion.

He began his political career as a Texas state representative and, from 1994 to 1998, served as the state’s commissioner of agriculture. He succeeded George W. Bush as governor in 2000 and held the office until 2015. 

Perry was named chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2008 and again in 2011.

By Jennifer A. Dlouhy

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