Guest Opinion: Trump’s pick for energy secretary

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Dec. 22
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President-elect Donald Trump has every right to select whomever he wants for his Cabinet and chief advisory positions. Some of his choices, however, make it harder to distinguish between the reality of our 45th president and the parodies of him on “Saturday Night Live.”

Sometimes it seems as if Trump is playing jokes. How else to interpret his selection of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as secretary of energy? This department is, after all, the only one Perry couldn’t remember when asked in a 2012 debate to name the three federal departments he wanted to eliminate.

Except for 14 years as Texas governor, Perry has been an expert at working himself out of a job, having done so in two presidential campaigns and his disastrous stint this year on “Dancing With the Stars.” Perhaps Trump wants to dismantle the Energy Department and believes Perry is the best person to do it. Perry’s demonstrated ability on live national television to wipe the department from his own memory certainly counts for something.

Petroleum revenues play a major role in the economic health of Texas. As governor, however, Perry had little to no direct responsibility over that sector. Petroleum production is regulated by the independently elected Texas Railroad Commission. Royalties from oil production on state land are managed by the independently elected state Land Commissioner (currently George P. Bush, son of Trump’s primary opponent, Jeb Bush).

Nothing in Perry’s academic background points to an expertise in energy. And if his mission truly is to dismantle the department, there’s nothing in his resume to suggest particular experience in dissolving agencies with $28 billion annual budgets. Nor does Perry offer much expertise in managing nuclear security, which accounts for more than a third of the Energy Department’s annual budget.

Perry did, however, work hard to assist one of his principal campaign donors, Harold Simmons, establish a major depository for radioactive and hazardous waste in West Texas. Simmons, a deceased Dallas billionaire who bankrolled the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth smear campaign against Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, donated $3 million to Perry’s various electoral endeavors.

That’s just a taste of the sweetheart, mutual back-scratching society that characterized Perry’s three-plus terms in office. Imagine the miracles he can work at the federal level.

Equally troubling was the 74-point questionnaire that the Trump transition team sent to Energy Department staffers asking them to account for any attendance at conferences where global climate change was discussed.

Both Perry and Trump reject the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that humans contribute to global warming. We shudder to imagine future McCarthy-like hearings in which employees are challenged, “Are you now, or have you ever been, a climate-change believer?” This is no joke.