Trump's tapped the cowboy we can't get rid of

Rick Perry in 60 seconds
Rick Perry in 60 seconds

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    Rick Perry in 60 seconds

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Rick Perry in 60 seconds 01:12

Story highlights

  • James C. Moore: Rick Perry, who pledged to abolish DOE as a candidate, now picked to lead it
  • Being chosen by Trump positions Perry to help his friends (and donors) in the oil industry, Moore writes

James C. Moore is the co-author of "Adios Mofo: Why Rick Perry Will Make America Miss George W. Bush." Unless otherwise noted, facts here reflect that work and its research. He is a business and communications consultant who has been writing on Texas politics and policies for 40 years. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author.

(CNN)Writing about Donald Trump and his Cabinet appointees is becoming a complicated task, because readers cannot readily discern satire from straight comedy, or even fact. But "facts," President John Adams once said, "are stubborn things."

They can also be difficult to believe.
James C. Moore
Consider that current Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist holding a doctorate from Stanford, who was preceded by Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics, are likely to be replaced by a man who got a grade of "D" in a Texas A&M University class entitled "Meats."
With his selection of Rick Perry to serve as secretary of energy, it seems that Donald Trump is asking us all to review the chapter from that class on baloney.
When he himself was a candidate for the presidency, the former governor of Texas famously could not remember the name of the Department of Energy, the very agency he's just been chosen to run, during a debate. During his presidential primary run, the man from "Oops" had also promised to abolish the department.
Which would probably be fine with his fellow Cabinet nominee to be secretary of state, who runs ExxonMobil. If Trump is draining the swamp, as he promised, it appears that's because he wants to make it easier to drill in the muck -- and everywhere else.
Perry, who was the longest-serving governor in the history of Texas and one of the shortest tenured contestants on TV's "Dancing with the Stars," also brings his own bags full of conflicts of interest. He sits on the board of directors of Energy Transfer Partners, the Dallas company building the Dakota Access Pipeline that has prompted protests by Native Americans in the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren donated $6 million to Perry's super PAC during the 2016 campaign, and employees of his company gave $1.5 million to the governor's dream of being president of a country without a Department of Energy. Undoubtedly, the company's workers gave of their own free will. (Warren was later reimbursed $3.9 million, post-Oops.) And when the Army Corps of Engineers said the Dakota Pipeline needed a new route, Warren's company was confident enough to publicly refuse to even consider that idea.
Warren knows a guy who can take care of things.
ETP and Perry have also caused a visible amount of angst in the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas. The company has federal approvals and permits to build a natural gas pipeline across the Big Bend, which is near one of the nation's most environmentally pristine national parks. Perry and the pipeline builders are already tunneling beneath the Rio Grande near Presidio, Texas, under federal authority, and have been accused of destroying archaeologically important sites.
In the era of fake news, all the wrong things seem to be disturbingly true.
For example, Trump said of Perry during the primaries that he "should be forced to take an IQ test before being allowed to enter the GOP debate" and that he had failed miserably protecting the border with Mexico. Perry was equally charming toward Trump and called him a "cancer on conservatism."
Could they be right about each other?
If he is confirmed, however, Perry's job will be less about drinking the dinosaur wine of the fossil fuel industry than it is about dealing with nuclear energy. The position relies on critical technical expertise to manage the global threats posed by nuclear weapons. In fact, Moniz, the nuclear physicist, handled much of the Iran disarmament deal negotiated by the Obama administration. Trump may blow up that deal, (and, hopefully, not the world with it), but Perry lacks any type of insight into nuclear arms or energy. In addition to that D he got in "Meats," the pride of Paint Creek, Texas, also earned a C in physics, two Cs, a D, and an F in four chemistry classes.
People might be worrying about Perry's management of America's nuclear arsenal but let me assure anyone reading this that there are Texans still wondering how a real cowboy can almost fail a class in meat.
Oil companies need not fret, however. The new energy secretary will do nothing to constrain their exploration. He might even pressure Trump to sell sponsorships of national park lands. Vacations will be glorious in the ExxonMobil Arctic Wildlife Refuge and the British Petroleum National Seashore. Having Perry at the helm of DOE, in fact, may become the strongest argument for eliminating the agency. America will have an energy secretary who believes scientists are manipulating data to fake climate change, and will say the same thing even when dolphins swim through the middle of Texas.
During his time in the Texas capitol, Perry once ended a TV interview with a reporter by saying, "Adios, Mofo." The recorded phrase became a mantra for his political opponents, who thought they were done with an irrationally conservative, anti-science officeholder.
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They were wrong, however. Our bad B-movie western has not yet ended. The cowboy still hasn't ridden away.