Former Texas Governor and recent reality television star Rick Perry seems to have taken “if you can’t beat them, join them” to heart. Perry, who during the latest Republican presidential campaign called now President-elect Donald Trump “a cancer on conservatism,” was tapped Wednesday to lead the Department of Energy under Trump’s incoming administration.
Meanwhile, DOE on Tuesday dismissed Trump’s request to provide the transition team with a list of employees who have worked on issues related to climate change.
Perry’s first Republican presidential bid was derailed in part due to a televised debate gaffe in which he stated he would eliminate three federal agencies. He went on the name the Departments of Commerce and Education before faltering, forgetting the third agency. “The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops,” he said, adding later in the debate: “By the way, that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for a while ago.”
Perry also launched a bid for president in the latest election but was the first contender to drop out of the GOP race, after which he appeared on ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars.” His prior campaigns, however, offer a good idea of how he views energy issues and the department he will now run.
Judging from his 2012 platform, and the fact that Texas has long been a national leader in energy production – the state is the nation’s largest producer of lignite coal, crude oil, and wind-powered energy generation capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration – it is safe to assume the DOE nominee views the energy sector as a promising source for job growth.
During an October 2011 Republican primary debate, Perry said he had a “pretty bold plan to put 1.2 million Americans working in the energy industry. He added that “you don’t need Congress to do that; you need a president with a plan … and clearly the intent to open up this treasure trove that America’s sitting on and getting America independent on the domestic energy side. It’s time for another American Declaration of Independence. It’s time for energy independence.”
The booming energy industry in Texas during Perry’s 14-year tenure as governor was praised following the announcement of his impending nomination. “During his time in office, Perry embodied the type of ‘all of the above’ approach to U.S. energy production that many have advocated on both sides of the aisle. Rick Perry’s Texas was not only a world leader in oil and gas production; it was also a global leader in wind power and renewable energy investment,” said Salo Zelermyer, a senior counsel with D.C. lobbying and law firm Bracewell.
Perry has long decried the current Barack Obama administration’s regulatory agenda, as has Trump. “You’ve got an administration that, by and large, has either by intimidation or overregulation, put our energy industry and the rest of the economy in jeopardy,” Perry said during his short 2012 campaign.
Like Trump, Perry is a climate skeptic who has earned more than a few fact checks over the years for claims such as “the science is not settled on whether or not the climate change is being impacted by man,” and “when it comes to man-made global warming, many scientists who once advocated it is caused by human activity have abandoned that theory after closer study.”
There is scientific consensus on the existence of climate change and its causes. “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities,” NASA has pointed out.
Perry’s nomination is just one of many clues as to what the Trump administration means for the Department of Energy. Late last week a transition team survey sent to DOE was leaked to the press. In the survey, the team requested that the department provide “a list of Department employees or contractors who attended any of the Conference of the Parties (under the UNFCCC) in the last five years.”
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the treaty under which the international Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted in December 2015. During his campaign, Trump vowed to “cancel” the agreement. Since being elected, however, he’s softened his language on the accord, saying he is “studying it” and has an “open mind.”
The survey also focused on the social cost of carbon, a measure used to determine climate costs and benefits to government actions. The transition team asked for “a list of all Department of Energy employees or contractors who have attended any lnteragency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings,” as well as “a list of when those meetings were and any materials distributed at those meetings, emails associated with those meetings, or materials created by Department employees or contractors in anticipation of or as a result of those meetings.”
The department made clear Wednesday it would not comply with this request. “The Department of Energy received significant feedback from our workforce throughout the department, including the National Labs, following the release of the transition team’s questions. Some of the questions asked left many in our workforce unsettled. Our career workforce, including our contractors and employees at our labs, comprise the backbone of DOE and the important work our department does to benefit the American people. We are going to respect the professional and scientific integrity and independence of our employees at our labs and across our department,” DOE spokesman Eben Burnham-Snyder said in a prepared statement.
“We will be forthcoming with all publicly-available information with the transition team. We will not be providing any individual names to the transition team,” Burnham-Snyder stated.
Senate Democrats have indicated they are less than thrilled with Perry’s nomination, which comes alongside that of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state. “These nominations are a harbinger of what’s to come under a Trump administration – a system where oil and gas profits will be paid for by those who suffer the consequences of war, environmental injustice, and climate change. As the world forges ahead with a global climate accord that will help move us toward an energy system that does not threaten people or the planet, we must recommit to making progress on climate change and defend the bedrock environmental protections that ensure clean air, water, and land,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a prepared statement. “The Trump administration should expect a fight on all of these nominations.”
The other side of the aisle appeared pleased with Perry’s appointment. “I am confident that under his leadership, the DOE will be right sized and focused intently on its twin goals of national security and energy independence,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said.
Perry will be formally nominated once Trump takes office in January and will then need to be confirmed by the Senate. Only a simply minority is needed to confirm a cabinet nominee meaning that if all Democrats vote against a nominee an additional three Republicans would also have to break rank.
Perry’s denial of man-made climate change has also put him at odds with environmentalists. “Governor Rick Perry has time and again ignored the overwhelming consensus of scientists to deny the reality of the climate crisis and his support for deregulation of the fossil fuel industry would likely delay the country’s movement to clean energy by decades, costing the country incredible opportunities for job creation and business growth. This is not the kind of forward-looking leadership we need on energy,” Ken Berlin, president and CEO of the Climate Reality Project, said in a prepared statement.