Let’s get something out of the way right now: Rick Perry is not only qualified to run the Department of Energy, he was among the most qualified candidates for president in 2016. His 14 years as governor of Texas qualifies him for the White House, full stop.
That’s not just because he’s the Lone Star State’s longest-serving governor, but also because he did a great job. During his tenure, Texas created more jobs than all 49 other states combined—if not for Texas, the country wouldn’t have seen net job growth until January of last year.
Of course, Perry didn’t create all those jobs himself, but Texas has the twelfth largest economy in the world, and basically carried the rest of the country through the Great Recession. As governor, Perry spent a lot of time on economic development and diversification. So when oil prices tanked in 2014, Texas’s economy didn’t collapse, despite the fervent wishes of Paul Krugman and the Left.
But of course the news on Tuesday that President-elect Donald Trump tapped Perry for secretary of Energy was met with the usual mockery and hand-wringing from the mainstream media. Yes, we all remember Perry’s infamous “oops” moment during a 2012 presidential primary debate, when he was listing the three agencies he would eliminate but couldn’t remember the third one—the Department of Energy. Representative of the news coverage Tuesday was the headline from AP: “From ‘oops’ to DOE chief; Rick Perry is pick for Energy.”
You Don’t Have to Be a Nuclear Physicist to Run the DOE
Aside from the cheap irony, some objected that Perry isn’t qualified for the job. “Does Trump know Department of Energy’s main job is managing the nuclear arms stockpile/nuke nonprolif/counterterror? How is Perry qualified?” tweeted Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald.
The New York Times noted that Obama’s two picks for secretary of Energy were both physicists, “one with a Nobel Prize, the other a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” Perry, on the other hand, is not a physicist. He was merely governor of Texas for 14 years, “and before that was the Texas agriculture commissioner. He holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Texas A&M University.”
See? Perry can’t possibly run the DOE because he isn’t a nuclear physicist. After all, Obama picked physicists Steven Chu and Ernest Moniz, the Nobel Prize-winner and MIT professor, respectively. (Moniz, by the way, is the guy with the Founding Father hairstyle who often appeared in the news with Secretary of State John Kerry during the Iran nuclear negotiations.)
This is a ridiculous argument. A perusal of past secretaries of Energy shows you don’t need to be a nuclear physicist to run the department. The cabinet position was created in 1977 under President Jimmy Carter, and the first person to hold the post was James R. Schlesinger, an economist who served as secretary of Defense under Nixon and Ford. Under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the DOE post was held by a diverse array of people, none of whom were nuclear physicists.
To run the Department of Energy, you need someone with experience heading up a vast bureaucracy with tens of thousands of employees and an annual budget roughly the size of a large state, like Texas. (To be fair, Texas actually has a much larger budget than the DOE.)
Also, while it’s true that much of what the DOE does is maintain and manage the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile, as governor of Texas Perry actually has some experience dealing with that issue. After all, the largest nuclear maintenance facility in the country is just outside Amarillo. Nearly every nuke in the country makes its way through the Pantex Plant in northern Texas, which ensures their continued capability and functionality. Perry worked with National Nuclear Security Administration for more than a decade, ensuring the security of Pantex and every piece of freight into and out of it.
Perry Would Shift Focus Back to Reliable Energy Sources
The Department of Energy has been different things to different administrations. President Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill created a huge federal loan guarantee program at the DOE for solar and battery companies. The first recipient of this program was Solyndra, the solar panel company that became an icon of Obama’s renewable energy boondoggle and went bankrupt in 2011 despite a $535 million loan guarantee from the federal government. By contrast, under President Bush the DOE was more focused on developing nuclear power and decreasing reliance on foreign oil.
The DOE also has a long history of helping develop new energy technologies, like fracking, which led to the shale natural gas boom that has taken off in Texas and transformed global energy markets.
Under Perry, the Department of Energy probably wouldn’t be abolished, even if he still wanted to eliminate it. But it would likely shift its focus back to improving cheap and reliable sources of energy like natural gas, oil, and nuclear power, which would in turn support America’s growing independence from foreign fossil fuels and help support the next energy revolution, whatever that might be.
One thing, though, is fairly certain: Perry would be an ideal man for the job.