The U.S. Senate on Dec. 2 confirmed Dan Brouillette as the new Secretary of Energy, tapping the former lobbyist for Ford Motor Company to replace Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who stepped down as Department of Energy (DOE) chief after becoming part of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
Perry’s tenure was marked by his support for coal-fired and nuclear power, though renewable power sources such as solar and wind also made significant gains during his time at the DOE. Perry, whose final day at DOE was Sunday, spoke often of an “all of the above” strategy when it came to U.S. power generation.
Brouillette, 57, has served as DOE deputy secretary, and energy industry analysts have said his agenda as head of the agency is likely to be similar to Perry’s. Brouillette has previously voiced his support for coal-fired and nuclear power generation. He has talked about U.S. “energy dominance” and has been a proponent of increased U.S. exports of crude oil and liquefied natural gas. The U.S. now exports LNG to 36 countries, helped by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) effort to work through a backlog in permitting approvals for Gulf Coast export facilities. The DOE under Perry also streamlined approvals for U.S. companies to export LNG.
Brouillette has denied comments that the Trump administration could act without congressional approval to help coal plants. He also has said the president had not requested any action along those lines ahead of the 2020 election. Brouillette does, though, support plans to pay power plants—specifically coal and nuclear facilities—for their ability to provide reliable and resilient power to the grid. FERC previously rejected Perry’s plans for new market rules to prop up struggling nuclear and coal-fired power generation.
Brouillette, who along with Perry participated in an interview Monday with the Washington Examiner newspaper prior to the confirmation vote, told the paper there is a “bright future for coal,” although coal-fired power today provides less than 30% of the nation’s electricity, down from about 50% a decade ago. Trump promised to bring jobs back to the coal industry, but several mining companies have filed for bankruptcy protection in recent months, and more coal plants were closed in the first two years of Trump’s presidency than were closed during President Obama’s first term.
“What the president has directed us to do is to look for different ways to utilize coal,” Brouillette told the Examiner. The incoming secretary said the DOE plans more investments in carbon capture research, working with private industry to develop cleaner coal products.
Brouillette has years of experience in the energy industry. He was chief of staff to the House Energy and Commerce Committee before joining DOE as deputy energy secretary. He served as assistant secretary of energy for congressional and intergovernmental affairs in the George W. Bush administration.
The Senate voted 70 to 15 in favor of Brouillette’s nomination, with some Democrats joining Republicans in expressing their support. Brouillette, during his confirmation hearings last month, told senators, “I’m proud to have been a small part of the incredible success we have seen in American energy.”
Perry and Brouillette in their interview with the Examiner touted the U.S. global influence on energy. “Dan and I always laugh at people telling folks here’s what conventional wisdom says: Fifteen years ago, they told us we found all the fossil fuels. Remember peak oil?” Perry said. The now-former energy secretary also said “it’s ‘drastically wrong’ for “very shortsighted individuals [to] say coal is done, it’s over with.”
Dissenters Cite Ukraine Matter
Among those voting against Brouillette’s nomination was Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who on Monday said the new energy secretary “failed to provide substantive answers to key questions about Mr. Perry’s dealings” in Ukraine during Brouillette’s confirmation hearings. He said Brouillette was waging a “full-court stonewall” when it came to what he knew about the administration’s dealing with Ukraine.
Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), who crossed the aisle in support of Brouillette, said of the new secretary: “He’s up to this enormous task. He’s a good man.” Manchin added that Brouillette “has been forthcoming” about Perry’s actions with regard to the administration’s dealings with Ukraine, saying, “he has not held anything back.”
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testified in an impeachment hearing that he worked with Perry on Ukraine matters “at the express direction” of the president. Sondland, Perry, and former special envoy Kurt Volker were known as the “three amigos” during impeachment testimony, as the officials Trump entrusted to handle matters related to Ukraine.
Brouillette during his confirmation hearings said he was not a part of any conversations related to the Ukrainian matter. “I’m not aware of the conversations that Secretary Perry had or did not have” with Ukraine, he said.
Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, told POWER via email: “Dan’s exemplary service as Deputy Secretary is proof positive that President Trump has made the right choice in tapping him to take the helm at the Department of Energy. Under President Trump, our nation has come a long way in a short period of time towards securing our energy future. I have no doubt that Dan shares that commitment and will work tirelessly to safeguard our nuclear arsenal and continue to promote freedom molecules around the world.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who also supports Brouillette, wrote in a statement: “Deputy Secretary Brouillette is an accomplished professional, with an impressive record in public- and private-sector leadership. His work alongside Secretary Perry has helped to undo the damage of the Obama era and write a new chapter in American energy production and innovation.”
Brouillette has opposed the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the DOE’s budget, which have included eliminating research and development programs such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Most of that agency’s budget is earmarked for nuclear development, maintenance, and cleanup, along with research into nuclear weapons.
Brouillette, like Trump, has been a critic of the Paris Agreement that the U.S. and several other nations signed in 2015. The Paris accord set goals for emissions reductions, primarily from the power generation sector, in an effort to combat climate change. Trump has vowed to pull the U.S. out of the agreement in November 2020 if he is re-elected. Brouillette has questioned the science around climate change and has pointed to the success of energy industry programs that have cut U.S. emissions since 2005.
The new secretary is among those who have argued that U.S. emissions reductions are being offset by continued burning of fossil fuels by countries such as China and India.
—Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).