US President-elect Donald Trump has turned to former Texas governor and political rival Rick Perry to head the Department of Energy (DOE), raising cautious hopes that wind and solar energy may have a voice in his incoming administration.
During Perry's 14 years in office, Texas became a wind energy powerhouse and it now has more
installed generation capacity than all but six countries. His “all-of-the-above” approach for energy
technologies also encouraged development of large-scale solar there, which is now evolving into an
important sector for investment and job creation.
Perry’s familiarity with solar and wind energy could prove helpful for both industries with Trump
in the White House, although how much he would advocate for both remains to be seen. As
governor, he was also is a firm supporter of natural gas and petroleum, not surprisingly as Texas is
the leading producer of both.
Thus far, fossil fuels are emerging as big winners as Trump fills key cabinet and senior executive
level positions. Trump himself has made no secret that he believes fossil fuels are the key to the US
become energy independent.
Earlier today, he nominated ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson to be his secretary of state
and earlier picked Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and climate skeptic as administrator of
the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
He reportedly will choose US Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest ranking
Republican woman in the House of Representatives, to head the Department of the Interior. She is
an advocate for increased oil and gas drilling on public lands and opposes EPA efforts to regulate
The nomination of Perry, which is also subject to confirmation by the US Senate, is ironic in that he
wanted to eliminate the agency when he ran for president in 2011.
During a primary debate, he declared he would abolish three federal agencies including the
commerce and education departments, but couldn’t remember DOE. “The third one, I can’t. Sorry.
Oops.” The gaffe effectively ended his first presidential bid.
He tried again earlier this year but couldn’t compete for the Republican Party’s nomination with
outsider Trump. Perry likened Trump to cancer, calling the real estate mogul’s campaign a “toxic
mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to
perdition if pursued.”
Trump returned the favor by deriding Perry’s campaign as a “barking carnival act.” Nonetheless, last
May, Trump won Perry’s endorsement. “He wasn’t my first choice, wasn’t my second choice, but he
is the people’s choice.”
DOE’s main responsibilities include the nation’s nuclear weapons program, nuclear reaction
production for the US Navy and radioactive waste disposal, including clean up of multiple sites
contaminated by military weapons programs in the 1940s through the 1960s. About two-thirds of its
$29.6bn went for those activities.
It also sponsors more research in the physical sciences than any other federal agency, the majority
of which is conducted through its network of national laboratories.
Under President Barack Obama, DOE has played a major role in his climate agenda and the
controversial nuclear deal with Iran that he orchestrated. Trump opposes both. Over the last eight
years, DOE issued billions of dollars in loans and loan guarantees for clean energy projects and later
took credit for launch of the utility-scale solar industry in the US.
The agency also has been heavily involved in funding research and development of alternative fuels,
materials and technologies, and initiatives that aim to improve energy efficiency and storage, and
reduce carbon pollution.
It has gone as far as partnering with privately-owned Clean Line Energy Partners to develop a high voltage
direct-current transmission line that will carry 3.5GW of wind energy from western
Oklahoma to south-central and southeastern states.
Trump has not spelled out his plans for DOE, but conservatives are calling on him to end its role in
“picking winners” among energy technologies and to return the agency to focusing on its core,
traditional mission. Perry would bring strong executive experience to the job. Texas became the
second largest economy during his tenure among the 50 states after California.
Environmentalists slammed the nomination of Perry as inappropriate given his prior low regard for
the agency and cited his skepticism over climate change. They also criticized Perry’s record on
environmental issues during his tenure and resistance to federal efforts to curb power plant CO2 emissions