With a vote of 62–37, the Senate on March 2 confirmed former Texas governor Rick Perry as the new secretary of energy.
Perry received the support of 10 Democratic senators: Mark Warner (Va.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Tom Udall (N.M.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Ben Cardin (Md.), and Joe Donnelly (Ind.). Independent Sen. Angus King (Maine) also voted for Perry.
President Donald Trump announced Perry’s nomination in mid-December. The nominee was met with immediate criticism from the left for his prior climate change denial and pro-fossil fuel history. However, Perry’s nomination held very little controversy compared to some of Trump’s other nominees, and his confirmation was presumed imminent.
Perry is well-known for his 2012 Republican presidential bid. His run was derailed in part due to a televised debate gaffe in which he stated he would eliminate three federal agencies. He named the Departments of Commerce and Education before faltering, forgetting the third agency.
“The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops,” he said, adding later in the debate: “By the way, that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for a while ago.”
Unsurprisingly, Perry has changed his mind about eliminating the agency since being tapped to lead it. Meeting his 2012 gaffe head-on, Perry stated during his January 19 confirmation hearing that he now believes the Department of Energy is a vital organization.
Perry’s confirmation has been met with applause throughout the energy industry. “Secretary Perry’s leadership on wind energy infrastructure as governor of Texas helped attract tens of billions of dollars in private investment to rural communities, and create over 25,000 wind jobs in the state,” Tom Kiernan, American Wind Energy Association CEO, said in a statement.
National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) CEO Jim Matheson also had praise for Perry. “America’s electric cooperatives are working with DOE to advance renewable energy and carbon capture technologies, deliver affordable hydropower to rural America, and ensure the security and resiliency of the electric grid. We look forward to working with Secretary Perry to continue these important efforts and provide the reliable and affordable electricity that drives economic growth in the communities served by electric co-ops,” he said.
Texas has long been a national leader in energy production. The state is the nation’s largest producer of lignite coal, crude oil, and wind-powered energy generation capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Not everybody is thrilled about Perry’s confirmation. “Unlike the preeminent physicists who ran the department for the last eight years, Perry lacks the knowledge and experience to run the DOE. The absurdity of trusting former-Gov. Perry to clean up the nation’s nuclear weapons facilities speaks to the clueless nature of the Trump administration,” Friends of the Earth Senior Strategic Advisor, Damon Moglen said in a statement released before the Senate’s vote.
—Abby L. Harvey is a POWER reporter.