Rick Perry Is Said to Be Stepping Down as Energy Secretary by Year’s End

Source: By Lisa Friedman and Maggie Haberman, New York Times • Posted: Friday, October 4, 2019

Rick Perry appeared before a House committee this year.
Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who has aggressively promoted President Trump’s fossil fuel agenda, is planning to step down by December, ending his run as one of the longest-serving cabinet members in a tumultuous administration, according to two people familiar with his plans.

Mr. Perry’s tenure at the Energy Department has been marked by fierce battles over the role that coal and nuclear energy should continue to play in the United States energy landscape. The agency under his direction has tried and failed to prop up struggling coal and nuclear power plants, and has energetically trumpeted oil and gas development while overseeing plans to reduce funding for wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy.

In recent weeks his role promoting natural gas and coal exports in Ukraine has come under congressional scrutiny amid attention to Mr. Trump’s political actions there.

Two people familiar with his plans, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly, said Mr. Perry intends to announce in the coming weeks that he will leave the administration in December. One person said that Mr. Perry had been winding down pet projects, like establishing an office on artificial intelligence, and that his future calendar had been cleared.

A former Texas governor, Mr. Perry also avoided many of the personal scandals that had plagued his counterparts at other agencies. In part because of that, those who know Mr. Perry have said, Mr. Trump has repeatedly considered his energy secretary to fill other cabinet vacancies, including secretary of veterans affairs.

Mr. Trump also considered Mr. Perry, 69, to become his chief of staff after John F. Kelly resigned, and more recently to take over the Department of Homeland Security after Kirstjen Nielsen’s resignation, according to two people close to Mr. Perry.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mr. Perry’s intentions were first reported by Politico.

Two people close to Mr. Perry said he would most likely go into the private sector in the energy industry. “I really think this might be the end of the road for him in terms of holding political positions,” said James W. Riddlesperger, a professor of political science at Texas Christian University who has followed Mr. Perry’s career since he ran for and won state agriculture commissioner in the 1990s.

Political analysts attributed Mr. Perry’s long tenure in an administration rocked regularly by scandal, abrupt resignations and Twitter firings to both his political savvy gained over 14 years as governor of Texas and an enthusiasm for Mr. Trump’s policy of aggressively increasing America’s production and export of fossil fuels. “There’s been virtually no drama at Secretary Perry’s office or at the agency, unlike some of the other cabinet offices through the administration,” said Ray Sullivan, a Republican political consultant who served as Mr. Perry’s chief of staff in Texas.

Mr. Riddlesperger said Mr. Perry’s relatively successful run in the Trump administration underscored the value of experience. “He’s one of the very few mainstream political appointments that President Trump made,” he said, “and I think it’s not surprising that he fared better than some people who don’t have that political experience.”

An Air Force veteran and graduate of Texas A&M University with a degree in animal science, Mr. Perry came to the agency charged with overseeing United States nuclear weapons programs, national laboratories and vast energy research programs without the academic pedigree or scientific background of his immediate predecessors.

He also arrived having called for the elimination of the agency as part of his failed 2012 presidential campaign — yet famously forgetting the agency’s name during a Republican primary debate the previous year. In that debate, Mr. Perry said he would eliminate three cabinet-level departments, including the Departments of Commerce and Education — and a third one that he could not remember. “I can’t, the third one, sorry. Oops,” he said.

In his confirmation hearing before the Senate, Mr. Perry apologetically walked back that pledge. However, he continued to stand firm on another position: his dismissal of the established scientific evidence that human-caused emissions are responsible for the Earth’s record warming.

Mr. Perry has repeatedly questioned whether, and by how much, man-made greenhouse gas pollution from tailpipes, smokestacks and other sources drives climate change. He has also aggressively promoted fossil fuels, despite the fact that wind energy expanded significantly in Texas while he was governor.

Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and an outspoken advocate for tackling climate change, criticized Mr. Perry for favoring fossil fuels and nuclear power over energy options like solar and wind, which Mr. Markey said were more competitive in the marketplace. “He’s almost the perfect embodiment of the rearview thinking of the Republican Party on our energy future,” Mr. Markey said.

Mr. Perry has counted gains in exporting coal and liquefied natural gas among his accomplishments as energy secretary. He also poured $3.7 billion in federal loan guarantees into a struggling nuclear power project in Georgia.

And while a plan to bail out ailing coal and nuclear plants failed, promoting those energy sources has remained a favored talking point. In April the Energy Department issued a “Game of Thrones”-themed videoin which Mr. Perry declared, “A new American energy era is coming.”

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Lisa Friedman reports on climate and environmental policy in Washington. A former editor at Climatewire, she has covered nine international climate talks. @LFFriedman

Maggie Haberman is a White House correspondent. She joined The Times in 2015 as a campaign correspondent and was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for reporting on Donald Trump’s advisers and their connections to Russia. Previously, she worked at Politico, The New York Post and The New York Daily News. @maggieNYT