How fitting that on the day Texas celebrates the 181st anniversary of its independence from Mexico that a former Texas governor takes the reins at the U.S. Department of Energy.
The Senate voted earlier today to confirm former Texas Gov. Rick Perry by a vote of 62-37 to be the nation’s fourteenth Secretary of Energy, making him the second Texan to hold the position. He follows in the footsteps of Charles Duncan Jr., the second Secretary of Energy who came into office in the midst of the oil crisis in 1979.
Perry, a former Texas governor, twice-failed presidential candidate (2012 and 2016) — and failed Dancing With The Stars contestant, is perhaps most famous for his “Oops” moment during the 2012 Republican presidential debate, when he said he wanted to get rid of three agencies but couldn’t remember the name of the third.
The third agency, as it turned out, was the Department of Energy which, astonishingly, he now heads.
As governor of Texas, Perry’s record on renewable energy is mixed. On the whole, he has supported fossil-fuel development, befitting his role as the leader of a state awash in oil wells and oil money. In the past, he’s expressed skepticism about the issue of Climate Change, though he softened his rhetoric by admitting, finally, that it’s possible human beings are contributing to a speeding up of the warming process. Perhaps that apparent change of heart is why nine Democrats crossed party lines to vote “Aye” on the nomination.
He has long defended the Keystone XL pipeline – which President Donald J. Trump recently greenlighted after its development had been stopped under President Obama – and Perry has sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for regulating carbon emissions.
Most troubling, however, is that Perry sits on the board of directors for Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind Dakota Access Pipeline through Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Though protesters recently left the site, it had been a focal point of clashes with the police until the Army Corps of Engineers put a halt on the project. The Corps said it wanted to determine whether the pipeline is a threat to the reservation’s water supply and will disrupt ancient burial sites, as protesters maintain.
Like Keystone, the Dakota Access project recently received the full-throated support of the president.
During his confirmation, Perry insisted he would support states’ efforts to promote renewable energy and pledged to keep the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s doors open and investigating future renewable-energy breakthroughs. He stopped short of supporting a national renewable portfolio standard.
Any plans the new Secretary has to support solar and other renewable energy sources may quickly be irrelevant. Perry’s confirmation comes amid reports of draconian cuts to the department’s budget, including rolling back funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific computing research to 2008 levels, eliminate the Office of Electricity, eliminate the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and scrap the Office of Fossil Energy, which focuses on technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
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