The Danger of Rick Perry as Secretary of Energy

Most of the reporting on the fact that Donald Trump has nominated Rick Perry to be the next Energy Secretary has focused on the irony of the fact that this is the department that led to the former governor’s “oops” moment during one of the 2012 presidential debates. In trying to name three federal departments he would eliminate, Perry meant to include the Department of Energy, but lost his train of thought 2/3 of the way through.

This is significant beyond the irony though. It is yet another example of a Trump Cabinet nominee who has openly been at odds with the department they will be slated to run.

However, most people are not very familiar with the bulk of the work performed by the Department of Energy. It is very possible that Rick Perry is one of those people. Coral Davenport explains:

While Texas is rich in energy resources and Mr. Perry is an enthusiastic advocate of extracting them, it is not clear how that experience would translate into leading what is also a major national security agency. Despite its name, the Department of Energy plays the leading role in designing nuclear weapons and in ensuring the safety and reliability of the nation’s aging nuclear arsenal through a constellation of scientific laboratories.

About 60 percent of the Energy Department’s budget is devoted to managing the National Nuclear Security Administration, which defines its mission as enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science.

The administration manages the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile and runs American programs on nuclear nonproliferation and counterterrorism. The two men who served as President Obama’s energy secretaries were physicists, one with a Nobel Prize, the other a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

I would remind you that Ernest Moniz, Obama’s most recent Sec. of Energy, played a major role in negotiating the particulars of the agreement with Iran about halting their nuclear weapons program. It was also under his leadership and that of his predecessor, Steven Chu, that this administration hosted four Global Summits on Nuclear Security that, among other things, resulted in the removal and/or disposition of over 3.2 metric tons of vulnerable highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium material and the complete removal of HEU from 12 countries – Austria, Chile, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Libya, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vietnam. It is also helpful to keep in mind that it was Sec. Chu who provided oversight to the team of scientists brought in to end the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

With Rick Perry, we get someone who has a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Texas A&M who served as Agriculture Secretary in Texas and then went on to be their Governor from 2000 – 2015. This is not to say that Perry’s credentials are insignificant. But when it comes to the job of securing nuclear weapons or preventing the Gulf of Mexico from becoming toxic due to an explosion over 4,000 feet under water, I doubt very seriously that he is up to the task. As much as any other unqualified nominee Trump has proposed, this one could be dangerous.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.