When Rick Perry goes before a Senate panel Thursday for his confirmation hearing to be energy secretary, he will surely be asked why he should lead an agency he once promised to eliminate. But a New York Times story suggests another line of questioning: It asserts that when he accepted the job, he had little understanding of what the department or its secretary actually did. Perry, the story says, thought the position meant that he would function as a sort of ambassador for the nation's oil and gas industries, unaware that the department's biggest task is maintaining and protecting the US nuclear arsenal. As a counterpoint, a post at New York suggests that the story "falsely impugns" Perry and lays out arguments from critics making that case, among them that the Times doesn't attribute the claim to any source.
The Times story has this key quote from Perry 2016 adviser Michael McKenna: "If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, 'I want to be an advocate for energy. If you asked him now, he'd say, 'I'm serious about the challenges facing the nuclear complex.' It's been a learning curve." But McKenna now tells the Daily Caller that the newspaper misinterpreted his remarks and that Perry "of course" understood what his role would be from the start. Meanwhile, another big part of the department's budget is maintaining 17 national labs that perform research on everything from solar panels to dark matter, and NPR reports on concern about their fate. A member of the Union of Concerned Scientists voices another worry: "that a secretary who doesn't fundamentally accept the science of climate change isn't necessarily going to direct the assets of the Department of Energy towards advancing that mission," says Ken Kimmel.