Perry Regrets Calling for Abolition of DOE

  • At his confirmation hearing he brushed off questions about climate change, but acknowledged the scientific facts about it.
  • He continues efforts to recover from the humiliation of having called for abolition of the agency while also forgetting its name.
  • His going in position on the agency was that he thought it was all about oil & gas. He was shocked to discover its mission has much more to do with nuclear weapons, cleanup of nuclear waste, nuclear R&D, loans for renewable technologies, and a multitude of industry and consumer energy programs .

Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, discovered this week that it takes more than a glib turn of phrase to run a major federal agency. He comes to the job with very big shoes to fill.

His two immediate predecessors were PhD scientists. Steven Chu was the recipient of a Nobel Prize in Physics. Ernest Moniz, based on his expertise, helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal.

Perry has a bachelor’s degree in animal science. He served in the USAF as a C-130 pilot and after leaving the military joined his father farming cotton in Texas. He was elected to the Texas legislature in 1984 and served three terms as governor. None of this experience prepared him for dealing with one of the government’s largest and most complex federal agencies nor its existential issues that revolve around nuclear weapons, energy policies, and climate change.

The New York Times reported that when President Trump offered Rick Perry the job of energy secretary, Perry accepted believing he was taking on a role as a “global ambassador” for the American oil and gas industry that he had been an advocate for in his home state. However, it came as a huge shock when he discovered that instead he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about.

The Washington Post reports that the former Texas governor, Trump’s nominee to run the Energy Department, fended off questions at the hearing about climate change at his confirmation hearing, reversing his earlier skeptical stance. He balked when pressed to declare it a crisis.

Perry also expressed regret for campaigning for the presidency in 2012 on the promise of abolishing the agency. In the 2012 presidential campaign, Perry said that the agency was one of three that should be abolished. He became famous because he could not remember its name during a debate. The episode ended Perry’s campaign. [You Tube video]

Perry came to the confirmation hearing having spent his time this past Fall in two appearances on the TV entertainment show “Dancing with the Stars.” He endeavored in his statements to the committee to recover from his image as a political lightweight who  made a mistake in the way he casually discussed the fate of the agency he now hopes to lead.

“My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” Perry said in his opening statement to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”

Perry brought up the politically sensitive topic of climate change, saying he believes the climate is changing and “some of it” is caused by “man-made activity.”

He added: “The question is how we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth.”

In its report the Washington post notes that if confirmed, Perry would run an agency tasked with monitoring the nation’s nuclear stockpile, cleaning up old nuclear-weapon development sites, managing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, setting appliance standards, managing the national laboratories, and overseeing a portfolio of grants, loans and loan guarantees that support research and development on every type of energy.

He called the national laboratories the “crown jewel of this country from an intellectual and certainly scientific standpoint.”

The future is unclear for nuclear energy R&D for both conventional technology in the form of small modular reactors and advanced GEN IV type designs.

Given the chaotic nature of the Trump transition, including an aborted witch hunt at DOE, prior to Perry’s nomination, of people associated with climate change programs at DOE, it is impossible to predict what Perry will be able to do if confirmed by Congress.  The Trump White House seems less interested in running the government and more interested in a running a war with the news media.

NEI is Bullish on Future of Nuclear Energy under Trump

NEI’s CEO Maria Korsnick said in a statement on the trade group’s web site that President Trump favors nuclear energy. She added that Bipartisan support for nuclear will continue in Congress, and that progress likely on used fuel, advanced reactor development.

She said this about the future of DOE’s R&D work.

“For light water reactors, NEI is focusing on the development of accident-tolerant fuels, which would provide enhanced safety for operating plants. Small modular reactors and advanced nonlight water reactors are continuing to attract the attention of policymakers, communities and energy leaders as a potential addition to the nation’s energy mix.”

“The industry is working with the NRC and the U.S. Department of Energy on technical and licensing support to deploy the first small modular reactors in the United States by the mid-2020s. The industry also is working with the NRC and DOE to support the development and commercialization of advanced nonlight water reactors, with a goal of having two more advanced reactors commercially available in the 2030-2035 timeframe.”

The Idaho National Laboratory, which is DOE’s lead lab for nuclear energy R&D, is located in a reliably “red” state and it enjoys strong support from its 100% republican congressional delegation. That said it will still have to compete for appropriations with other labs.

In the past several years it has deployed several new advanced nuclear energy R&D programs under the umbrella of the GAIN office. A consortium of Utah utilities has plans to build a first of a kind small modular reactor developed by NuScale on the site. That company just filed its design certification package with the NRC.

If Perry is confirmed, and that seems likely, his choices for Assistant Secretaries, including the one for nuclear energy, will determine whether NEI’s early optimism about the future will be confirmed by their performance on the job.

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