Donald Trump has chosen Rick Perry to be Energy Secretary, putting the one-time presidential candidate and former oil-state governor atop the agency charged with charting the nation’s energy future, according to two people familiar with the president-elect’s selection process.
Trump offered the job to the former Texas governor on Monday evening and he accepted, according to the people, who asked not to be identified in advance of announcement expected later this week.
Perry, 66, was known in the oil state of Texas as a proponent of “American energy,” viewing energy policy as a economic development goal, while also encouraging investment in alternative sources such as wind and solar.
His nomination breaks with a recent tradition of putting scientists at the top of the Energy Department. Among other things, the agency is responsible for policies on the safe handling of nuclear material and on emerging energy technologies.
Perry is at least the third cabinet pick considered friendly to the oil industry, with Trump’s selection of Exxon Mobil chief Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state nominee and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has a history of suing the Environmental Protection Agency, as chief of that agency.
Trump is also expected to name Jay Martin Cohen, a retired Navy rear admiral, as under secretary for nuclear security, a position within the Energy Department, one person said.
The selection of Perry puts the vast energy agency in the hands of a man who once vowed to shut it down but forgot its name during a debate.
Perry twice ran for the Republican presidential nomination, presenting himself as a pro-business candidate and touting Texas’ strong job-creation record during his tenure.
The first bid faltered after a series of gaffes. In the most famous, Perry was unable, during a 2011 debate, to name the third federal agency that he wanted to disband along with the departments of commerce and education. It was the Energy Department.
A second run, launched in 2015, began with high expectations but ended amid low poll numbers after only a few months.
As the longest-serving governor in Texas, Perry, 66, oversaw a state that is a powerhouse in both fossil fuel and renewable energy. It is the nation’s biggest producer of oil and, thanks to a wave of turbine installations, has the capacity to generate more wind energy than any other state.
That background could be a limited asset for Perry, though. Despite its name, the 39-year-old Energy Department’s chief role is managing the national nuclear weapons complex, promoting nuclear security and advocating nonproliferation. Under President Barack Obama the department also has played a lead role advancing clean energy technologies.
Ernest Moniz, the current energy secretary, is a nuclear physicist who previously headed an energy initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was preceded by Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate who directed the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and was a professor of physics and molecular and cellular biology. Perry earned a degree in animal science from Texas A&M University.
Trump has promised to unleash domestic oil, gas and coal production, largely by rescinding “job-killing” rules and environmental regulations. Although the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency would be the target for much of that regulatory rollback, a questionnaire circulated by Trump advisers signals future scrutiny of the Energy Department’s national labs and loan guarantee programs.
Perry’s Texas roots gave him a close-up view of the U.S. energy renaissance, as the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques helped drive domestic oil and production to near-record levels.
But Perry also helped drive the development of wind power in Texas, by signing legislation requiring the state to boost how much electricity it derived from renewable sources. He also supported a program to build thousands of miles of power lines ensuring wind power from Texas’ gusty panhandle could be sent to urban areas.
Salo Zelermyer, a former senior counsel at the Energy Department now with Bracewell, said Perry’s tenure as Texas governor “embodied the type of all-of-the-above approach to U.S. energy production that many have advocated on both sides of the aisle.”
“This track record will serve Perry well not only in leading the Department of Energy but also in becoming a significant part of the new administration’s approach to issues like regulatory reform and infrastructure investment,” Zelermyer said by e-mail. “As Texas has shown, it is indeed possible to successfully balance appropriate environmental regulations with domestic energy production and use.”
Perry previously served as Texas agricultural commissioner and has headed the Republican governor’s association.
He was indicted in 2014 for abuse of power and coercion after threatening to veto funds for the a Travis County office that investigates corruption unless the district attorney, who had pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated, resigned.
Perry pleaded not guilty, and an appeals court dismissed the final counts in February, determining that a court limiting the governor’s veto authority violated separation of powers provisions of the state constitution as well as his free-speech rights.
Perry serves on the board of Energy Transfer Partners LP, the company whose pipeline project has drawn opposition in North Dakota and has become a rallying cry from environmentalists. While the Obama administration has stalled the project, Trump has signaled he will speed federal approvals for energy infrastructure.
Perry engaged in a very public feud with the EPA over U.S. biofuel mandates, after leading an unsuccessful campaign in 2012 to persuade the agency to lower quotas.
According to an official biography on his 2016 presidential campaign website, James Richard “Rick” Perry was raised by tenant farmers in the West Texas town of Paint Creek. He was the first member of his immediate family to attend college.
From 1972 to 1977 he served in the U.S. Air Force, flying C-130 aircraft in Europe and the Middle East. Perry boasts of being a life-time member of the National Rifle Association and the American Legion.
He began his political career as a Texas state representative and, from 1994 to 1998, served as the state’s commissioner of agriculture. He succeeded George W. Bush as governor in 2000 and held the office until 2015.
Perry was named chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2008 and again in 2011.