US, Iran trade barbs at meeting of UN nuclear watchdog

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry delivers his speech at opening of the general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, Monday, Sept. 16, 2019.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry is planning to step down from his post by the end of the year, according to four individuals briefed on his plans, making him one of roughly a dozen Cabinet members to leave their post during President Trump’s administration.

The Texas A&M graduate will likely return to the private sector, one of these individuals said. All four spoke on the condition of anonymity because no formal announcement has been made.

The former Texas governor, who has touted fossil fuels but also research into alternative energy since taking office, has not enacted the same sweeping policy changes as his counterparts at the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Politico first reported Thursday night that Perry planned to leave by the end of November.

Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said in an email, “While the Beltway media has breathlessly reported on rumors of Secretary Perry’s departure for months, he is still the Secretary of Energy and a proud member of President Trump’s Cabinet. One day the media will be right. Today is not that day.”

Perry is among the longest-serving members of Trump’s Cabinet, which has had an historic level of turnover due to a combination of scandals and the president’s penchant for growing tired of officials he deems to be ineffective or disloyal. Perry has kept a low public profile during his time in the administration, particularly for a former governor who twice ran for president, and has shown few signs he has ambitions for a future in politics.

One Trump administration ally said Perry, who has spent much of his career in public service, would like to earn a private-sector salary “before hanging up his spurs.”

In May, Perry led the American delegation to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration, in the place of Vice President Pence, and congressional Democrats have begun to examine the trip in light of the ongoing impeachment inquiry focused on Ukraine. However, no evidence hass emerged yet that Perry participated in the effort to pressure Ukranian officials to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

It’s unclear if Trump would nominate a replacement for Perry, particularly if it would lead to a messy confirmation fight in an election year, and the president has said on several occasions that he likes to have acting officials in key positions.

While Perry has shifted some of the Energy Department’s policy emphasis compared to his Democratic predecessors, especially on climate change, the department has not experienced as much turmoil as other parts of the federal government under Trump. And Perry has worked on initiatives such as protecting the electricity grid from cybesecurity attacks, which enjoys bipartisan support.

The White House has consistently pressed to cut DOE’s budget, but it has actually grown instead, from $34.6 billion in Fiscal Year 2018 to $35.5 billion in FY 2019. Perry regularly traveled the country to hand out research grants, and praised the work of its scientists.

During a presidential debate in 2011, Perry forgot the name of the Energy Department when he listed three departments he would eliminate if elected. But he became one of its enthusiastic boosters after taking its helm, going out of his way to visit its 17 national labs.

At a stop last year at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif., Perry remarked that nearby the lab there are some “pretty cool companies to be working for and you could be making a helluva lot more money, most likely, than working in this place.” But working among talented federal scientists, he said, “is invaluable. You’re making a difference.”

That same year Perry praised the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which has helped kickstart research into solar energy and battery storage, as one of the reasons DOE “has had and is having such a profound impact on American lives.”

The Trump administration proposed eliminating ARPA-E for two years in a row.

But the secretary expended more effort bolstering legacy players in the energy sector, including coal and nuclear power. Within a month of taking office Perry met with Robert E. Murray, a coal magnate and major Trump donor. The two men hugged, and Murray Energy’s founder gave Perry a four-page memo outlining ways the federal government could help his ailing industry.

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