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Trump Nominates Rick Perry To Lead Department Of Energy

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Multiple media outlets are reporting that Donald Trump plans to nominate Rick Perry to run the Department of Energy. Perry is the former governor of Texas. And at one point in 2011, he was actually the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. Then, at a primary debate, he promised to abolish three cabinet-level departments and tried to list them off.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICK PERRY: And I will tell you. It's three agencies of government when I get there that are gone - Commerce, Education and the - what's the third one there? Let's see.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: That third agency Governor Perry wanted to abolish was the Energy Department, the same one he may soon lead. To talk about Perry's record in Texas is NPR's Wade Goodwyn. He joins us from Dallas. And Wade, although we didn't know it at the time, Perry's memory lapse was kind of his last moment as a national political figure until now, right?

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: It was definitely a painful moment in presidential debate history. And even though it was a kind of a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I sort of thing, that was it for Rick Perry. He tried running again for president last year but was never a serious contender - first one to drop out. But now, through the grace of Trump, Rick Perry's back.

CORNISH: And he did serve 14 years as Texas governor, the longest-serving governor in the state's history. What was his track record on energy issues during that time?

GOODWYN: Well, you're not going to be surprised to hear that he was a big proponent of the fossil-fuel industry. As governor, Perry fought the EPA for years in federal court as the agency tried to regulate the state's prodigious greenhouse-gas emissions. He's a fracking supporter. He attempted to fast-track the expansion of coal-fired power plants in Texas.

The governor also has described climate-change science as hysteria and a contrived, phony mess. He sits on the board of directors of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline. However, I would not describe Perry as hostile, at least historically, to alternative energy. He allowed legislation to pass in Texas which helped make the state the leader in wind energy. But his true loves are the oil, chemical and natural-gas industries. And the feeling was definitely mutual.

CORNISH: Now, as we mentioned, when he ran for president the first time, he vowed to abolish the department he's now set to run, the Energy Department. And at the same time, this is a department that seems to be on the defensive. Just today, the agency spokesperson said that they would not turn over names of climate scientist specialists, which was something that the Trump transition team reportedly demanded.

GOODWYN: Yeah. I imagine there's some resume sprucing going on as we speak. But the DOE is not just about energy. It manages the nation's nuclear stockpile, science and technology labs around the country. Here's one of Rick Perry's top advisers, Abby McCloskey.

ABBY MCCLOSKEY: I would bet that the agency probably stays in existence. However, there are clearly significant areas of reform. And I think that those things will be taken very seriously by the governor and by President-elect Trump. And that's a good thing.

GOODWYN: McCloskey's point's well-taken here - and that it's not going to be Rick Perry who sets the Energy Department's agenda. He's going to take his direction from President Trump.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, one bit of truly random trivia - Rick Perry was also the first cabinet member who's been a contestant on "Dancing With The Stars." What can you tell us about that?

GOODWYN: Well, you know, I don't think he threatened Gene Kelly's legacy. But, you know, he wasn't fabulous. But he worked hard, and he got better.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn in Dallas. Thanks so much.

GOODWYN: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.