Science, Now + Beyond

Here’s why you should worry about Rick Perry running the Department of Energy

It's scary enough that Rick Perry is about to head a department he once forgot existed, but did you know the extent of what this appointment means?

In case you haven’t heard, President-Elect Trump has named former governor of Texas Rick Perry as Energy Secretary.

Once upon a time, during the 2012 Presidential Election, Rick Perry was reaching for the Republican nomination. Perry named three departments he would eliminate if he were President. Or, he named two (Education and Commerce) and then forgot the third. The embarrassing gaffe ended Perry’s Presidential hopes. But lo! Five years later the Orange Fairy descended upon Rick Perry and bestowed upon him the chance to head up that third department that he would have eliminated had he remembered its existence. The Department of Energy!

At this point it’s safe to assume that anyone Trump has picked as a Cabinet member is probably going to be almost comically unsuited to the job, and Perry is no different.

Put yourself a solid ten steps ahead of Perry and learn what the Department of Energy actually does and why it’s important. These are the things the Department of Energy does, the things that Rick Perry will control come January.

1. Nuclear weapons

That’s right, the Department of Energy is responsible for the nuclear weapons arsenal, including maintaining the aging warheads, testing them, and keeping the labs clean. This actually takes up the majority of the budget. This also includes cleaning up sites that were contaminated by nuclear waste, usually due to Cold War testing. Think about it: do you really want nuclear bombs to lay untouched an un-monitored in a warehouse somewhere? Of course not!

2. Research

The Department of Energy’s Office of Science describes the research it does like this:

Advancing a clean energy agenda through basic research on energy production, storage, transmission, and use; advancing our understanding of the Earth’s climate through basic research in atmospheric and environmental sciences and in climate modeling; supporting DOE’s missions in national security.

Basically looking into clean energy and understanding how the environment works. The DOE manages laboratories, gives out grants, and even sets efficiency standards for appliances. Perry himself is a climate change denier, while Trump himself apparently wants to know which staffers have attended events where climate change is discussed in terms other than “it’s a hoax.” Perry and many other conservatives seem to support nuclear energy technologies, but we need more than “some nuclear and wind energy is fine” in an Energy Secretary.


ARPA-E, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency- Energy, funds energy technologies that aren’t really there yet. It looks into methods that aren’t ready to be pitched to the private sector but are still worth researching. ARPA-E falls under the DOE’s purview.

While “long shot” technologies may sound vague, every technology we have now started off as vague and uninteresting to private investors. Think about it. Didn’t everyone think the idea of personal computers was crazy just a few decades ago? I personally remember thinking smartphones would never be popular among people who weren’t using them for work. We need someone to bridge the gaps and make sure that we aren’t overlooking a possible path towards clean energy.

4. Bonus: the Dakota Access Pipeline

While the DOE doesn’t directly deal with DAPL, Rick Perry is part of the board of directors for Energy Transfer Partners, which is (you guessed it!) the company trying to build the pipeline. Perry started lobbying for Energy Transfer Partners only a month after leaving the governor’s office. This puts Rick Perry a conflict of interest for obvious reasons. But it also means that there is yet another high-ranking official who doesn’t have the best interests of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe at heart and who is committed to continuing our dependence on fossil fuels.

As the appointments continue to roll in, make sure you keep abreast of the developments and what they’ll mean after Trump’s inauguration. You can’t make a difference if you aren’t informed. Call your representatives, cast your votes, and pay attention.

If you know the science, you know what’s at stake.