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Dancing with the Nukes: Rick Perry for DoE

January 19, 2017


Is there any greater cynicism than nominating Rick Perry to head the cabinet agency that he once said he would abolish–if only he could remember which one it was?

Perry was perfect for Texas politics:  an affable good-ol’-boy manner, Marlboro Man looks, a fabulous head of hair, chummy ties with the oil-and-gas industry, and bedrock conservative views on almost everything.**

His sole qualification for Secretary of Energy, however, seems to be that Texas has a lot of oil.  And, of course, that appointing him to the cabinet is a kind of exquisite revenge for having denounced Trump in July 2015 as a “barking carnival act” and a “cancer on conservatism”.  Now look who’s sucking up to The Donald!

Perry initially seemed confused about the mission of the Department of Energy, one of whose primary functions is to guide the country’s nuclear policy, including managing the US nuclear weapons arsenal and international non-proliferation efforts.  The outgoing secretary, Ernest J. Moniz was chairman of the MIT physics department and an eminent nuclear physicist.  Moniz’s predecessor, Stephen Chu, was a Nobel laureate in physics.  Perry studied animal husbandry at Texas A&M (another ideal credential for Texas politics), where he reportedly earned Ds in his science classes.

As governor, Perry supported teaching creationism in Texas schools, and he doesn’t believe in climate change. When Texas had a historic drought in 2011, his response was three days of prayer for rain.

Moniz was one of the co-negotiators of the agreement to end the Iranian nuclear weapons program.  Trump has denounced that agreement, and Perry joined in the almost universal Republican opposition to the deal, because…you know,…Iran.  Perry has virtually no experience in international relations, unlike Bill Richardson (a former non-scientist Secretary of Energy) who had served as US Ambassador to the United Nations.

Perry has made much of the enormous growth of wind-generated energy in Texas during his tenure as governor, but it is unclear that he actually had much to do with that.  According to The Texas Observer (the state’s venerable watchdog journal), “the overarching theme of Perry’s environmental and energy record is a laissez-faire approach to regulation punctuated by heavy lifting for campaign donors and special interests.”

Perry used an executive order to fast-track approval for eleven coal-burning power plants for Texas’ largest utility, TXU Energy (now Energy Future Holdings), despite enormous and diverse opposition in the state.  According to the Texas Observer, Perry received at least $630,000 in contributions from TXU during this period. Three of the plants were eventually built.

Perry’s acquaintance with nuclear issues consists mainly of his cozy relationship with Waste Control Specialists (WCS), a company owned by the late Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, a big contributor to Perry but best known for funding the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry.  Again according to the TO, in 2003 Perry signed a bill privatizing nuclear waste disposal that was specifically crafted for WCS, and then greased the permit process for the company to open a nuclear waste dump in West Texas, despite warnings from geologists about the danger of contamination of aquifers. Perry’s appointees have since approved expansion of the facility and the shipment of waste from other states. WCS now has a proposal before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to store spent nuclear waste at the facility which will be up for review in 2019.

Perry’s hostility toward the EPA is well-documented. Texas filed 19 suits against the EPA during Perry’s 14 years as governor, and he called the EPA “a cemetery for jobs.” He would almost certainly work hand-in-glove with Scott Pruitt to destroy that agency if they are confirmed.

Hell, read the whole Texas Observer report here!

Perry’s other political views (hostility to gay marriage and gay rights in general, relative (for a Republican) sympathy towards immigrants, etc.) are less relevant for the Energy job.

What is relevant is his spectacular lack of qualifications for the position.  If you agree, let your senators know it!  Info on contacting them is here.

**Disclosure:  I spent most of the first 30 years of my life in Texas, so I know something about the state.

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