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What Would U.S. Energy Policy Look Like With Rick Perry at the Helm?

Energy

By Rob Cowin

There's a clear trend in the president-elect's cabinet appointments—many of them are opposed to the agencies they would lead.

Some have demonstrated opposition to the particular agency and/or its mission in a professional capacity. Others have stated a desire to see the agency disappear altogether, suggesting the institution has no value.

Rick Perry's appointment to head the Department of Energy (DOE) is certainly consistent with this trend; in a 2011 presidential debate he famously forgot the name of the agency he would abolish. And now he's been nominated to lead it.

Why does it matter and what should we expect?

Is Gov. Perry the Right Fit?

The DOE has important national security responsibilities. It's primarily a weapons and environmental management agency, and the secretary position requires strong management skills.

One of DOE's most important responsibilities is making sure things like this (handling nuclear weapons) happen safely. Wikimedia

The DOE is also a science agency. While it's not essential that the secretary be a scientist, it's important that the secretary understands and values science and the scientific process.

Gov. Perry can certainly make a credible case that he's a good manager and he even has some experience with spent nuclear fuel policy in Texas. But he's also made numerous inaccurate and misleading scientific statements and rejects the scientific consensus on things like climate change. If Rick Perry is truly "very intent on doing a good job," he'll need to hit the reset button on his approach to science and science policy, start talking to the experts and stop making irresponsible statements.

As governor, though, he was savvy enough to see the economic and jobs potential of renewable energy, garnering a reputation as a pragmatist. The Texas wind industry, much of it under Perry's governorship, has provided $33 billion in capital investment to the state and supports more than 24,000 jobs and 38 manufacturing facilities, all while generating an incredible 18,531 megawatts of clean, renewable electricity.

How much credit Gov. Perry deserves is debatable, but his record should provide clean energy advocates some cautious optimism. One can work with a pragmatist; it's the ideologues you have to watch out for.

What the Department of Energy Does

Most of DOE's focus is nuclear weapons-related. The agency includes the National Nuclear Security Administration, with the vast majority of the agency's budget allocated to maintaining our nuclear arsenal and managing the cleanup of radioactive waste, much of it from the legacy of the Cold War.

DOE also does a lot of basic science research. DOE manages our 17 national labs, which employ roughly 110,000 people, are supported by Republicans and Democrats, and have helped the U.S. remain at the forefront of science and technology innovation since WWII.

DOE invests in basic scientific research.Sandia National Laboratories

The national labs continue to produce breakthroughs that aid our national security and economic competitiveness, as well as increasing our understanding of everything from automotive engineering, to environmental health, to computer science, to the origins of our universe.

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