There are few reasons for the Senate to confirm former Texas Governor Rick Perry as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and many reasons to oppose his confirmation. He famously vowed to abolish the DOE when he ran for president in 2012 (along with several other federal agencies) but then could not even remember the name of the agency when asked about it during the Republican primary debates. One might have guessed at that time that he knew very little about what the agency actually did. This lack of knowledge has been borne out during the confirmation process.
Governor Perry now says that he has learned a bit more about the mission and responsibilities of the DOE, which include defense-related energy projects, the national laboratories (Argonne, Fermi, Los Alamos, etc.), and providing funding and technical expertise for a wide range of public- and private-sector energy research and development (including fossil fuels, electric vehicles, renewable energy technologies, and energy efficiency). With this new knowledge, he now says the agency he has been tapped to head is worth keeping, at least in some shape or form.
However, the question of what shape or form the agency will take in a Trump administration should prompt tough questions for Governor Perry. Last week, news reports indicated that the Trump team planned to eliminate numerous DOE offices, including those focused and research, development, and funding for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and fossil fuels. When Perry was questioned about this during his confirmation hearings last week, he said that just because something was on the Internet doesn’t make it true and that he would be an advocate for the agency, even if he could not promise he would be successful in that endeavor. His lack of knowledge of the administration’s proposal, as well as his history of hostility toward the agency itself, is clearly a cause for significant concern.
Notably, some renewable energy groups, including the American Wind Energy Association, have expressed support for Perry, pointing to his support for wind energy in Texas during his time as governor. It is true that Perry supported expansion of the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) program, a nearly $7 billion expansion of the state’s electric grid to connect new wind farms throughout the state and integrate that renewable energy into the grid. The CREZ program, as well as other government and private-sector development of wind energy in Texas, has resulted in that state being the leading wind energy producer in the United States and a model for the rest of the country.
But these successes should be viewed with caution in the context of the Perry confirmation proceedings. The CREZ program and other renewable energy programs in Texas had strong support from the state legislature, the private sector, landowners, and environmental groups. If he is confirmed as DOE Secretary, Perry will likely not have the support of the Trump administration in any efforts to fund or otherwise support renewable energy research and development, and President Trump himself has expressed only criticism of renewable energy in general and wind energy in particular.
As the Perry confirmation process proceeds, senators should ask pointed questions as to how Perry plans to retain funding for key offices and programs in DOE and what priorities, if any, he has developed for the agency he has been tapped to lead now that he has learned a bit more about its mission and responsibilities. They should also ask about his commitment to renewable energy on the national level and his reasons for that support.
Even more importantly, if the Senate confirms Governor Perry to lead DOE, such questions from House and Senate leaders must continue. It is critical that Congress provides adequate funding and other support for this critical federal agency during the Trump administration to promote energy security.