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Trump Taps Rick Perry To Head Energy Department


Let's talk next about President-elect Trump's choice for secretary of energy. Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, is that choice. And NPR's Scott Horsley is here to talk about it. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Didn't Rick Perry once call for eliminating the Department of Energy?

HORSLEY: That's right, Steve. When he ran for president four years ago, Rick Perry wanted to eliminate not only the Energy Department, but also the departments of Commerce and Education. Energy is the department he had trouble remembering during that awkward televised debate.


RICK PERRY: The third agency of government I would - I would do away with - the Education, the Commerce... And let's see - I can't. The third one - I can't, sorry... Oops.


HORSLEY: It was an oops moment that effectively ended Perry's presidential campaign. He made a second run at the White House in this cycle, but that was short-lived. He did, however, like a lot of fallen celebrities, win a measure of redemption competing on "Dancing With The Stars."

INSKEEP: OK. I just have to ask - I mean, it's not fair to judge somebody by one screw-up, even on television like that. But this is someone that Trump himself, when they were candidates against each other, mocked for his lack of smarts and said he was wearing glasses to try to look smart. Does Trump believe now that Rick Perry actually is smart?

HORSLEY: In his official announcement this morning, it was very effusive, and no crack about the glasses. Instead, the Trump team highlighted Rick Perry's role as the chief executive of one of the biggest states in - and one of the biggest economies in the country. Of course, Perry led Texas. He's the longest-serving governor of that state. He led Texas for most of this century.

And it's true, Texas has enjoyed a generally strong economy during that period, thanks in part to its energy industries, especially oil and natural gas. We should say Rick Perry also embraced wind energy. There's a lot of wind in Texas, and it's become a leader in that field. But as our Texas-based colleague Wade Goodwyn said, it's really the oil and gas industries that Rick Perry loves. And they love him right back.

INSKEEP: Well, let's try to understand what the Department of Energy does. Aren't they more about nuclear materials and nuclear weapons than about oil and gas? How's it work exactly? And what do they do?

HORSLEY: It is a big department, and it does have responsibility for managing America's nuclear stockpile. The last two energy secretaries, under President Obama, have been eminent scientists. Steven Chu, President Obama's first energy secretary, was a Nobel Prize winner. He helped - with the help of money from the stimulus fund, Steven Chu really helped turn the Energy Department into sort of a venture capitalist for clean energy development. Chu also was notable for helping BP during that disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The current energy secretary, Ernie Moniz, was a top scientist at MIT. His grasp of nuclear physics made Moniz a key player in brokering the Iran nuclear deal.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah, that's right.

HORSLEY: Rick Perry would be a very different sort of energy secretary. He is someone who has questioned the scientific consensus surrounding climate change. And in fact, the Trump energy - the Trump transition team at the Energy Department has been raising questions, asking for names of Energy Department staffers and contractors who took part in climate meetings around the country. There is a real fear that that could cast a chilling effect over the agency and the incoming administration. There's a suspicion that maybe the incoming administration wants to carry out some sort of ideological purge at the Energy Department. Just yesterday, the department said it would not be turning over the names of those individual staffers.

INSKEEP: Let me pose a question that I know to be getting asked here and there on Capitol Hill, as some of these Cabinet appointments have been rolled out. Are people being named to run agencies, or close them down? That's the question. In this case, it's a guy who actually said he wanted to close the agency down once upon a time.

HORSLEY: Certainly if you look at a lot of the Trump Cabinet picks, these are people who have very strong philosophical differences with the agencies they're being assigned to run. If they don't close them down, they're certainly going to try to move those agencies and departments in a very different direction.

INSKEEP: Interesting times. Scott, thanks very much, as always.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Scott Horsley, giving us some background on Rick Perry, the former Texas governor and former presidential candidate, now President-elect Trump's designee for secretary of energy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.