Energy Secretary Rick Perry, whose name has come up in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, is planning to resign next month, according to multiple news reports.
A Department of Energy spokesperson denied the impending departure of Perry, one of the few original Trump administration cabinet officials remaining. But after Politico broke the news, citing three anonymous sources, Perry’s resignation plans were reconfirmed by The Washington Post, citing four anonymous sources.
Perry, a former Texas governor who has traveled abroad often to promote U.S. energy industry interests, replaced Vice President Mike Pence to lead the U.S. delegation to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's inauguration in May. That visit has since come under scrutiny as part of the impeachment inquiry into Trump launched by Democrats in the House of Representatives on September 24.
The subpoena that House Democrats sent on Monday to Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer and key figure in the Ukraine scandal, included demands for records of Perry’s trip, and any communications DOE may have regarding the phone calls between Trump and Zelenskiy at the heart of the impeachment investigation.
In a Tuesday letter, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) demanded that Perry answer questions about his interactions with Zelenskiy. Menendez asked Perry whether Trump had asked him to pass along the president's “desire for assistance in investigating one of his political opponents or their family members, or unsubstantiated theories related to Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 U.S. election,” and asked whether Perry ever “conveyed such a request.”
At a Wednesday DOE event, Perry told reporters, “We're going to work with Congress and answer all their questions.” No evidence has emerged that Perry participated in Trump's effort to pressure Ukrainian leaders to investigate his political rivals, and sources told Politico that Perry’s departure was unrelated to it and had been planned for months.
Perry’s role at DOE has been less controversial than those of fellow cabinet members such as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who resigned under clouds of scandal. He has supported several initiatives with broad support, such as improving power sector cybersecurity in the wake of revelations of Russian hackers compromising key power plant systems.
But compared to predecessors such as physicists Steven Chu and Ernest Moniz, the Texas Republican with ties to the U.S. fossil fuel industry was seen by some as a poor choice to lead an agency tasked with maintaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal and investing billions of dollars into advanced energy research.
During his failed 2016 presidential campaign, Perry famously forgot the name of DOE as the third federal department on a list of those he would abolish if elected. And the New York Times reported in 2017 that Perry unaware that DOE was in charge of U.S. nuclear weapons before he was nominated to lead it.
Perry presided over a DOE that enjoyed bipartisan support for many of its key programs, particularly from members of Congress from states that house the agency’s national laboratories. While the Trump administration has proposed budgets that would have slashed funding for DOE’s labs, the ARPA-E research program and other key energy research initiatives, Congress has actually increased funding for these efforts over the past two years, including 2018’s $3.77 billion boost in funding, bringing the agency’s budget to a total of $34.5 billion.
Perry’s most controversial effort to intervene in U.S. energy policy on behalf of the fossil fuel industry was a failure, however. In 2017, after meeting with key Trump campaign backer and coal company CEO Robert Murray, Perry unveiled a DOE proposal asking federal regulators to force utilities and customers to buy electricity from money-losing coal and nuclear plants that can store at least 90 days of fuel on site, on the grounds that allowing them to close would threaten grid reliability.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously rejected the proposal in early 2018. Soon after, reports surfaced that DOE was seeking to use a federal law regarding emergency wartime industrial production to force through a similar policy. But that effort, never officially acknowledged by DOE, was shelved late last year, according to reports.
Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette is expected to replace Perry, Politico reported. Brouillette was nominated in 2017 to his post at DOE, where he previously served as an assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs from 2001 to 2003. He was a vice president at Ford Motor Co. from 2004 to 2006, and was a long-time aide and chief of staff for former U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-Louisiana).
Brouillette has made relatively few public statements, but did talk to the right-leaning outlet Washington Examiner in February 2018, shortly after FERC rejected DOE’s coal and nuclear bailout plan. In that interview, he defended the idea that allowing money-losing coal and nuclear power plants to close could threaten grid reliability, which is unsupported by data and analysis from multiple parties, including the DOE.
Brouillette also expressed the view that DOE under the Obama administration had “wanted climate science to dictate their energy policy,” with the agency’s breadth of energy research “subordinated” to a climate action plan.
“We want to do it exactly the other way around,” he said. “We think we can produce energy here in America cleanly and efficiently and responsibly. But the notion is, we have to produce it ourselves. That's what the president's talking about with this energy dominance agenda. We have to do this. And I think if you look at the larger political situation, we are.”