When the president is on Twitter suggesting a U.S. senator is a whore and his fellow Republicans are on TV talking about how much they hate the FBI, guess who gets lost in the shuffle? Why, it’s our own Rick Perry, our former Gov. Oops. Where is that boy, anyway, and what in the devil’s he been doing with himself up there in Washington?
A quick check reveals he’s still very much doing the Donald’s work as secretary of energy and still with the great hair. Far from lounging around idle, our former three-term Texas governor has been exploiting his low profile to dig deep into the government.
He just manages, somehow, to make less noise than the others. In recent weeks, Perry’s main focus has been to get the federal government to bail out a handful of coal-mine companies, especially five major miners, one of which is owned by a big Trump supporter.
The logic of the Perry plan is what you might call a bit of a reach-around: 1) We need to maintain operations at older, inefficient, high-polluting coal-fired generating plants in case terrorists attack us. 2) Those plants should store more coal for the attack. 3) The federal government should order special rate hikes to be imposed on customers for all that extra coal. 4) That way the energy companies will get billions of dollars from the ratepayers, which they can spend keeping those coal mines in business.
Plus, anyway, Perry says the energy industry is getting killed by Obama-era over-regulation, so all of the environmental and consumer protection measures enacted under Obama need to be ditched immediately.
It’s free enterprise. Just not for you and me. Vox reported this week on a series of serious reports from both within and outside government calling Perry’s proposed policy a major transfer of wealth from working- and middle-class ratepayers to a few wealthy investors in over-the-hill coal mines, with no positive effect on national security. The most devastating was a report ordered by Perry from within the Department of Energy, a study of “grid resilience” intended to show how Perry’s plan would protect the nation from blackouts caused by over-regulation and Muslim extremists.
The report came back saying the opposite. It said government regulations have little to do with the shuttering of older coal and nuclear plants, most of which close down because they can’t compete with new, cheaper, cleaner, more efficient technologies. Blackouts, the report said, are caused by bad planning and bad distribution systems, not running out of fuel.
In case that report somehow might have been shuffled into a wastebasket by accident or otherwise sent astray, some clever person leaked a copy to Bloomberg News. And now those Washington permanent-government types probably thought they had our Oops boxed. His report proved him wrong. Bloomberg had a copy. What’s he going to do now?
Easy. When the Department of Energy released the report, Perry just put a cover letter on it saying the report proved him right. Hey. Who reads reports these days?
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That’s why some people are watching Perry closely, even if he’s off the radar for most of us. The question is how deeply and with what effect Trumpian intellectual antimatter can penetrate basic government policy. With just about every expert who has looked at it warning that Perry’s proposal is preposterous, can the best head of hair in Texas pull it off anyway, just by smiling and blithely denying reality?
His plan hit a strange bump last week when Kevin McIntyre, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — a Perry appointee — balked at Perry's Dec. 11 deadline to impose the plan on the nation under FERC’s rule-making authority. McIntyre said the agency needed another 30 days to think about it, and Perry meekly acquiesced.
Perry? Meekly? Nobody seems to know yet exactly why Perry and his guy backed off, but it’s something. Maybe the governor just needed a timeout for a refresher on what the plan’s about.
Even if Perry isn’t at center stage with the other people in the administration, jumping into all the high-glamour pedophilia and treason fights, he’s still very much a presence in Washington, maybe at a much deeper and more consequential level. Think about that for a while.