DOE chief spoons out Perry-isms to sweeten bitter battles

Energy Secretary Rick Perry loves to talk about the Trump administration's big-picture "energy dominance" theme, but listen closely and you'll hear him repeating words and phrases that might be more revealing.


The Department of Energy chief sprinkles Perry-isms through his appearances at congressional hearings, in off-the-cuff remarks to reporters and in speeches.

While some expressions — like his use of "all of the above" in reference to energy strategy — aren't unique to the former Texas governor, others highlight his style and philosophy.

Perry is rarely combative and nearly always informed by his years in Texas politics. That means references to pickup trucks and horses and always "Yes, sir" and "Yes, ma'am" to lawmakers.


"If you think back to his 2016 presidential bid, part of the reason he's in the Cabinet is that he was not particularly nasty or insulting to other candidates, particularly Trump," said Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan.

"He kind of likes to get along with people — at least in public," he said.

Perry's folksiness may be helping deflect the sharp criticism that has rained down on some other Trump Cabinet members. And his style may be helping smooth a path for a DOE policy shift toward "early-stage" research, favoring nuclear power and fossil fuels and proposed budget cuts for renewable energy and efficiency initiatives.

Perry-isms may be more strategic than they appear.

"He is not a newcomer to the game like many of Trump's appointees. He's a pro at this stuff," said James Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University.

And don't be fooled, Riddlesperger said; Perry can also take off the gloves and brawl when it serves his interests.

Here are 10 Perry-isms, including many used by the DOE chief in hearings on President Trump's proposed budget:

'It's the coolest job I've ever had'

Two things are in play when Perry says DOE chief is his "coolest job." First, it addresses rumors that Trump might tap Perry for another Cabinet post. And second, he has said that to exclaim over trips he's taken to view DOE-sponsored projects, an ironic making of amends to a department he once vowed to kill. His job as Texas governor, he points out, was the "best" job he's ever had.

'Make nuclear cool again'

Nuclear power, like the DOE job, is also "cool" to Perry, who explains that when he was growing up in the 1960s, many young people wanted to be nuclear engineers. "That's not so much the case today, because this industry has been strangled all too often by government regulations," he said at the White House last year. Since then, he has rolled out the "cool again" line elsewhere, reflecting his overall push to boost nuclear and coal-fired power plants.

Mature, maturing and maturation

Perry uses those M words to justify proposed budget cuts on renewable energy. His argument is that solar and other clean technologies are no longer emerging and do not need as much government support as they once did. At a House hearing last month, Perry played on "mature" five times and compared renewables to his children after their college graduations. "Dollars that have historically been spent to bring those up to the place where they can be mature — we don't feel like those dollars need to be expended," Perry said. Mature or not, his argument drew criticism from advocates who said renewables still need federal research dollars to bring costs down.

'One line item'

In defending Trump's proposed budget cuts, Perry loves to say one line item doesn't determine results or explain fully what DOE is doing with a given technology. Asked by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) about why Perry calls batteries the "holy grail" if DOE's budget request cuts battery research, Perry responded, "Pulling that one line item and saying this is all of ... the dollars that we're going to be focusing on a particular effort might be a little bit narrow in scope."

More wind than 'all but 5 countries'

The secretary often uses his work in Texas to explain why DOE is or is not following a given policy. It's a rhetorical feature distinctive to him, since it's rare for DOE secretaries to come directly from state politics. The strategy emerges perhaps most often when he says Texas has more wind power than "all but five countries." He told a House panel last month, "No state developed more wind energy in the nation while I was the governor than Texas. As a matter of fact, we created more wind than all but five countries." Texas' installed wind capacity now is topped only by China, Germany, India, Spain and the United States as a whole. Perry's "five countries" spin helps emphasize what he calls a false argument that economic growth, less regulation and lower pollution can't go together. For critics, it's camouflage for Trump's efforts to cut DOE wind research.

'Crown jewels'

Perry has consistently praised DOE's 17 national labs as "crown jewels," despite proposed budget cuts that would crimp their operations. He crowed in a tweet last year that the labs "are the crown jewels of America's R&D efforts." Separately, he called them the "crown jewels of American science." On a visit to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, he told workers there they were the "real crown jewels." Perry's lab love underscores the administration's push on supercomputing and veterans' issues. Trump called for a 39 percent increase in supercomputing research in fiscal 2019, and Perry led a lab partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve health care.


In his first year as secretary, Perry was heckled after telling CNBC he didn't think carbon dioxide was the primary driver of a warming Earth. That sparked a slew of Perry comments that "climate is changing," followed by assertions that people questioning the human role in global warming aren't "Luddites." At a White House briefing last year, he said, "The people who say the science is settled, it's done — if you don't believe that, you are a skeptic, a Luddite. I don't buy that." Perry hasn't expanded his views of human-driven climate change this year, although he has mentioned DOE's support of carbon capture research when asked about warming temperatures.

'You appropriate'

Perry has been deferential to Congress on spending, using variations of the phrases "You appropriate" and "I know what my role is." Before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in April, he said, "Where you appropriate and where you authorize, we will work to make you very proud that we managed it absolutely the most efficient way that it can be." While Congress always holds the purse, some Cabinet secretaries have been pushy in the past. In being deferential, Perry commonly mentions his days as a member of the Texas Legislature, when he called the governor's budget a "doorstop."

'Exporting freedom'

For Perry, increasing fossil fuel exports is not just about U.S. energy leadership, but about preventing other countries from "being held hostage" by countries that have used energy as cudgel in the past. "If they are going to use energy as a weapon, we need to have the largest arsenal," Perry said at last week at the Texas-Israel Cyber Security Conference, where he announced the first American exports of liquefied natural gas arriving in Israel. As he has during other speeches, Perry said the United States is "exporting freedom" and offering LNG with no strings attached.

'Energy realism'

As for Perry's "energy realism" doctrine, it encompasses many of the ideas behind other Perry-isms. And like the others, it garnered praise from conservatives and sharp criticism from environmentalists who said it doesn't consider climate change. "We don't have to choose between growing our economy and caring for our environment. By embracing innovation, we can benefit both," Perry told the Senate Appropriations Committee in April. Energy realism, he says, also means the United States should "share its bounty" by exporting gas and coal and helping develop things like small modular coal plants to help developing countries.

Reporter Sam Mintz contributed.

Twitter: @christa_marsEmail: cmarshall@eenews.net

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